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How to Turn Your First Job Into a Successful Career


Thanks to the recession, workers in almost every industry have entered a new era of job insecurity, which may partly explain why it’s much less common for companies to hand out gold pens and watches to mark five or 10, much less 20 years of dedicated service.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years a U.S. worker has held their current job is just 4.4, which represents a steady decline over the last 30 years. Though the drop in average job tenure transcends industries, education levels and gender, BLS data shows that older workers tended to stick to their jobs longer than 24-35 year olds.

We've talked to three executives who have been in their current fields for more than 10 years. Where possible, we included their starting salary along with the median pay for the same position today. Here's what they had to say about sticking to a career choice and climbing the corporate ladder to success.


Do You Know What You're Worth?

First Job: Product Design Engineer
U.S. Median Annual Salary in 2012:
Starting Annual Salary in 1982 at Ford Motor Company:

Nancy Lee Gioia is currently Ford Motor Company’s director of Global Electrification. Though she was appointed to this position Oct. 9, 2009, Gioia's actually been with the company since 1982 when she started as a product design engineer in the Electronic Entertainment Group, Radio Chassis and Circuit Design.

Back then, Gioia was given a starting salary of approximately $21,600 in exchange for designing, developing and releasing a "music search" feature for cassette tapes (yes, cassette tapes) to allow the customer to skip forward or backward to the beginning of the next or prior track.

Gioia’s Advice: “Start with an understanding of what is expected of you: the objectives and goals. Learn all you can, while consistently delivering the highest quality results possible. This is the foundation. Work at becoming the best with demonstrated depth and substance. With growth of competence, stretch your horizons. Deliver what is expected, and always expand your role. Learn about the total business. If technical, understand the business drivers; if business, understand the technical physicals. Great results depend on competency, processes and people. Competency is the base, processes guide, people and relationships deliver. Have fun and enjoy the marathon.”

First Job: Electrical Engineer

U.S. Median Annual Salary in 2012:
Starting Annual Salary in 1980 at Hewlett-Packard:
Not provided

Vyomesh Joshi joined HP in 1980 fresh out of graduate school as an electrical engineer. During the past 30 years, he's witnessed a sea change in the technology landscape and is currently the executive vice president of HP's Imaging and Printing Group.

Joshi’s Advice: “Look at where you can push boundaries in order to move your career to the next level and help strengthen your industry. One technique that has helped me in my career is to think in opposites. By looking at the means and not the ends, you can uncover the solution to any challenge. Have pride in what you do and know that failures are okay as long as you really make a contribution and learn from it.”

First Job: Registered Nurse

U.S. Median Annual Salary in 2012:
Starting Annual Salary in the late 1970s at University of Rochester:

Patricia Button, EdD, RN took her first job in nursing as a staff nurse at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York with a salary of about $12,000 per year. Along the way, Button quit nursing for four years to live out a dream of owning and operating a bed and breakfast. But, the call to care was stronger, and now as chief nursing officer at Zynx Health Incorporated, Button directly empowers nurses to make more efficient clinical decisions by putting proven medical research at their fingertips.

Button’s Advice: “I think key things to consider at the beginning of a career are to think carefully about what one really likes and gets satisfaction from, but also what aspects one is really good at. There are so many different types of opportunities in nursing and healthcare – bedside care, clinical specialization, administration, education, informatics – that one has the opportunity to progress in one’s career and find roles that fit one’s expertise, as well as one’s passion.”

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What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.