Everyone remembers that first job out of college. Our first jobs teach us a lot about the real world, from transferable soft skills to business skills we’ll use throughout our careers. Looking back on their first jobs, IMA’s top thought leaders share what they learned about business and the real world.
JEFF THOMSON, CMA, CAE, IMA president and CEO, learned the value of paying attention to detail while keeping the whole company in mind:
“My first job was at AT&T as a junior analyst in an analytical support group (July 1979). Being in such a large company, in a very complex and changing era, I learned the importance of taking a step back from diving immediately into the technical detail for which I was educated to learn the players, the politics, and the business. In other words, I had to take time to understand the company and department culture and how the company generated value in terms of mission, values, and strategies.
“More specific to my job, I learned from my first boss the value of paying attention to detail and how to write a compelling memo for information and influence, with the key points stated up front vs. a term-paper format with conclusions toward the end. I will never forget my first memo coming back with so much redline (real red ink back then!) that it exceeded the length of the original memo! What a lesson learned, and now I think I can write a pretty compelling memo!”
RAEF LAWSON, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, IMA vice president of research and professor-in-residence, started his career in a different mind-set but used the skills he learned throughout his career:
“My first job was as a lab assistant—I had thoughts of pursuing a career in chemistry at the time—so there weren’t any business lessons there. But it did teach me about the importance of being reliable, thorough, and accurate, all of which were essential for the experiments we were running. These attributes continued to be important throughout my career, including in my current position at IMA.”
DEBBIE WARNER, CPLP, CAE, IMA vice president of education and career services, focused on soft skills and found that continuing education is very valuable:
“After graduating college and joining the business world, I quickly learned that the demands and priorities between school and the workplace were similar in some ways but also very different. Both college and my first job required completing specific projects within deadlines and teaming with others to accomplish such initiatives.
“But to succeed in the business world, I also needed understand the broader landscape of the profession, explore future trends, and recognize how the organization (and my role) fit into that larger puzzle. As such, my education didn’t stop with college graduation. Rather I needed to continually learn and grow to be successful in my role. For instance, I found it helpful to cultivate a network of colleagues to bounce ideas off of, work with a mentor to help guide me through the environment, and seek opportunities to build and sharpen my professional skills. Some of those opportunities included returning to college at night or on weekends to earn an MBA in finance and attending relevant industry conferences and training events to keep pace with business. My first job taught me that continuous learning is truly a lifelong journey.”
LINDA DEVONISH-MILLS, CMA, CPA, CAE, IMA director of technical accounting activities, learned a lot from her first job as an auditor:
“My first job exposed me to skill sets and tactics that have helped me function in a business environment throughout my career. For example, I learned both verbal and written communication skills, financial analytical skills, and research skills. As an auditor, I learned which line items on a company’s financial statements to look at to determine if a company is operating efficiently. And building my research skill set helped me get familiar with operations among different industries, which helped me with what I should look for when reviewing a company’s financial statements.
“All of these skills sets are why it is essential for an accounting professional to become a CMA® (Certified Management Accountant).”
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