Brian Brenberg: Your first job is just the beginning – Tips for charting a career in an ever-changing economy

Landing your first job after college is a big step, but it's probably also the simplest step you'll take in your career. The tougher challenge is charting a path forward in a world where technology and innovation are radically changing the jobs we do and how we do them. The good news is, you don't need to be a visionary. But you do need to expect change, learn on the job, and ask smart questions.

Don't fear change.

The career path of today's college graduates is going to be dynamic. Chances are high they will hold many, many jobs in a variety of different industries, some of which haven't been invented or even imagined yet. But that's not entirely new. Americans throughout time have shown amazing energy, creativity, and grit in breaking new ground and stepping into unfamiliar new places. It was guts and faith, not fear, that allowed them to do it.


Do be adaptable.

Finding opportunity is not about how far you can see into the future, but how open your eyes are to what's happening in the world around you. Don't get caught up trying to chart your career path for the next 30 years. Instead, take regular stock of the skills you're building and interests you're developing, and then be willing to try something new if it aligns with them. The key in today's economy isn't meticulous planning, because change is too rapid. The key is smart trial and error that helps you take advantage of how things are changing.

Don't expect your degree to save you.

As technology changes, the technical knowledge we gain in school will become outdated very quickly. Sitting in a classroom often takes you away from the front lines of what's actually happening with new trends in work and technology. The old model is education first, then work, but today's economy requires a mix of both throughout your career. Classrooms just won't cut it.

Do learn through work.

Working is education. Period. If you want to understand how new technologies are being used, and how people are using them to make a living, the best place you can be is on the front lines. You have a real incentive to learn quickly and apply that learning because if you don't, you won't have customers and you won't have a job. Employers care much more about the results you produce on the job, not what textbooks you cracked as a student.

Don't idolize STEM.

Yes, science, technology, engineering, and math are critically important in our world. But don't assume that these are the only fields that matter. Mobile computing and social media are technological marvels, but more and more people are realizing that just because a technology is powerful and sophisticated, doesn't mean it's good for us. Science helps you figure out how to do something. It doesn't tell you whether that thing is worth doing. And we need people to help us answer that question.


Do ask the big questions.

We need companies and products that marry technology with clear thinking about what actually contributes to human wellbeing. It's not simply about what can be done, but what ought to be done. That's a question technology and science can't answer, because it's a question of value, and only humans can assign value. The great entrepreneurial opportunities in the years ahead will be in finding ways to develop and use technology to combat addiction and anxiety, and promote freedom and flourishing. The need is great, and the potential is unlimited.

Your first job is a big win, but it’s really just a launching point into uncharted territory. In our fast-moving economy, innovation is creating demand for new skills and rewarding those who can adapt. The key to thriving isn't leaning on your degree but learning through your work. We need fresh insights on how technology can improve our health, enable our creativity, and strengthen our communities. Making this kind of difference doesn't require brilliance, just a little bravery and a lot of hustle.