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Is "Entry Level" Code for "Salary Slavery"?

By John R. Platt

So you're entering the job force, and looking for an entry-level job to start your career off right. But that "entry level" thing scares you. You're worried: do those two words translate to "salary slave"?

No, they don't. At least, not if you don't let them.

The important thing to remember about any job -- at any time in your life -- is that you are never a "slave." You can leave at any time. That's the extra-special beauty of an entry-level job. No one expects you to stick around forever. Entry-level jobs have entry-level salaries, so companies know that the position will encounter plenty of turnover.

But does "entry-level" mean you're working for peanuts? Yes, sure, sometimes. But there is a silver lining: few entry-level jobs are exempt from overtime. If you're suddenly expected to work 20-hour days, you may be exhausted, but your paycheck might take a nice boost. Save that money whenever you can. Trust me, when you hit middle management and stop earning overtime, you might find yourself longing for the time when longer days meant bigger paychecks.

Yes, as an entry-level employee, you'll get the entry-level assignments. The boring assignments, the hard ones, that ones that require you to fetch coffee for meetings and pick up visitors from the airport. But you'll also be gaining valuable experience, meeting people, and getting a chance to get into the nit-and-gritty of your chosen field.

Don't let your first job take total control of your life. You still deserve a chance to have some fun and relax. You're allowed to take days off. You're allowed to be sick once in a while. And you deserve it to yourself to spend at least a few minutes a week looking for the next opportunity that might be waiting around the corner.

Have some loyalty to your boss -- the person who gives you your first chance -- but don't let them or anyone else walk all over you because you're the new guy. Once you illustrate to people that you're a peon who can be dumped on, you'll always be that person.

Similarly, don't feel bad about leaving when comes time to tell your boss that you're moving on, either when you get another opportunity or when you can't stand it any longer. That first boss gave you a shot, but they'll only really respect you when it's time to move on.

That's another good thing to keep in mind about the entry-level job: your exit strategy. Advancing within a company is always good, but it's also a good thing to see how different companies operate, especially when you are in the first decade of your career. Jumping to a new employer is good strategy: you get to start fresh and you get to take what you learned in your entry-level job and apply it into something bigger and better.

So don't worry about being chained up. Entry-level chains are weak. They aren't designed to keep you down. An entry-level job may have you singing the blues once in a while, but it sets the stage for a great career to come.

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