Making Sure the Second One's a Winner

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007

There's a lot of hype surrounding that first job. But what about the second one?

In some ways, the search for your second job is easier. You're already bringing in a paycheck, after all. Your parents have probably eased up a bit.

But in other ways, it's more complicated. You're in limbo. You have just enough experience to push those college activities off of your résumé, but not enough to qualify you for jobs asking for "seasoned" professionals.

It's a bind that Charles, a 26-year-old legal assistant for an intellectual property firm, knows well. He has been at his job for three years, and while he likes it, he considers it a dead end.

"The job, though largely of my own design, is certainly not what I see myself doing for the rest of my life and is so specialized that I'm afraid there is little chance of further promotion within the firm," he said. "So, I'm left with a decision of whether it's time to move on or not. I am tempted to leave because I do feel like I would have to get very creative in order to find further advancement and because I know there must be a job that is a better fit out there somewhere."

What keeps him there? "A good paycheck and a sense at work that I am valued and respected -- and a complete lack of ideas as to what I am now qualified to do anywhere else."

Knowing when to leave that first job -- and what to look for in the next -- is a common source of anxiety for young workers, said Lindsey Pollak, author of "Getting From College to Career."

But it doesn't have to be. "I tell students that a job is not a soul mate," she said.

But you do need to be a pickier than you were with the first job. "There's a lot of forgiveness out there when it comes to your choice of a first job. However, that starts to fade as you get into your second, third, fourth or even fifth job," Pollak said.

And the shorter your time at the first job, the more careful you need to be with the second one.

"If you've only been in that job for a short time, you need to be able to tell a good story about why you're leaving. Companies want to know if they are hiring someone who's going to stay for a while," Pollak said.

How long is long enough? A year is preferable, but if you're "totally miserable," six months, she said.

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