Change generation

Punctuality, responsibility, find something that you love: What did you learn on your first job?

Some famous names share their experiences – and yes, first impressions count.

This article is part of our Change Generation project, supported by KBC. To read more click here.

THE FIRST FEW DAYS in a new job can have a huge impact on how you will be perceived at work down the line.

You might have been top-of-the-class at university or breezed through your training, your outfit is probably on fleek and your manners impeccable, but all that effort will be worthless if you don’t make a good first impression.

We asked some well-known faces to tell us about their first jobs.

Did they mess up? What did they learn? And, what’s their best advice?

And we want you to tell us what you learned from YOUR first job in the comments below.

Ian Dempsey – Today FM radio presenter


“I’ve never really had a proper job in my life unless you include working on building sites with my uncle, or delivering Sunday newspapers to shops on a Saturday night.

“My first regular paid employment was in RTÉ Radio 2 (now 2FM) and it all began on 1 March 1980 when I entered the ‘campus’ in Donnybrook for the first day as a legal broadcaster (I was on pirate stations before that but I didn’t really get any money) – obviously my mother was thrilled.

“The thing that I learnt straight away was that the chase is always better than the arrival. Once you’re there it’s over to you to make the most of it and only you can control how that works out. Everybody else is looking out for themselves, understandably, so nobody is more important to your career than you.

“Because I’d come from the wild world of pirate radio, my newest colleague Gerry Ryan left a little welcome note for me in downtown Donnybrook which outlined one very important rule of speaking into an RTÉ microphone!”

image1 Gerry Ryan's words of wisdom for Ian Dempsey on his first day at RTÉ Ian Dempsey Ian Dempsey

imageJim Breen - Social entrepreneur & founder of Cycle Against Suicide

Businessman Jim Breen has more than a few strings to his bow. Most people will know him as one of RTÉ's Secret Millionaires and for his charity work with Cycle Against Suicide, which he founded. He is a very successful entrepreneur and here he tells us what he has learned over the years.

My Dad used to say, ‘it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.’ As a 21 year old starting out into my first job after university, I didn’t really understand what he meant.

"Twenty-five years later, I finally get it. Whether it’s the day job at PulseLearning, or my volunteer role at Cycle Against Suicide, I have learned that you bring your passion and purpose with you to work each day. If you go there and expect to find it waiting for you, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

"The only advice I could offer someone leaving school or college and about to start their first job is to find every opportunity you can to learn as much as you can from as many diverse people as possible."

Brendan Maher - Captain of 2016 All-Ireland hurling champions Tipperary and primary school teacher

Brendan Maher is well known for his exploits on the pitch, but his day job is teaching primary school children in Tipperary. He says he first got a taste of the real world while working at a factory in his native Borrisoleigh.

"For my first proper job, I began working as a 16 year old in M&J Gleeson in Borrisoleigh, which is probably better known as Tipperary Water.

"I worked in the mineral store there during the summer of 2005, where my job was to prepare orders for deliveries, gathering different cases of drinks and making up the pallets of orders that were to be delivered out to the different pubs and shops.

Brendan Maher with the Liam McCarth cup Brendan Maher with the Liam McCarthy Cup James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

"I really enjoyed the experience and felt I learned a lot about being responsible for my actions! I had to have the order right or it would cause a lot of hassle for the delivery men and mess up the whole operation.

"Mistakes were made but I definitely learned from it."

Margaret E. Ward - entrepreneur, journalist, broadcaster

After graduating from college in the US, Margaret E Ward set up her own copywriting business. It was successful but she soon learned she was terrible at finances. A job opportunity arose in Wall Street and she took it.

Here's what she learned from the experience:

"I thought it was a great opportunity to sharpen my number skills while still working in marketing. I flew through the writing and interview process at Lehman Brothers but was placed in an operations role instead of in marketing.

"It was a nightmare so I lobbied the marketing manager once a week to hire me. They didn't have a marketing writer so I sold her on how efficient I was because I'd worked as a journalist and how valuable I was because I understood corporate needs and tone of voice.

"Thankfully, she hired me.

The investment bank was a great experience because they were so well resourced. They had a radio and TV station, were on the cutting edge of multimedia, did regular events and conferences as well as having a need for loads of marketing materials both online and in print. They threw me in at the deep end and I absolutely loved the challenge.

"After three years though there was nothing left to learn and a chance came up to do a short-term research project in Ireland. I took the leap of faith and here I am 21 years later with a career in Irish financial journalism behind me (Irish Times, Sunday Times, Newstalk) and my brand communications businesses Clear Ink and Broadly Speaking thriving.

"None of this would have happened if I didn't think strategically about my first jobs and developed the skills, and contacts, I needed to run my own companies down the line. Mentors and champions were also hugely important in my progression and personal development at each company."

Conor Adams - musician and one-half of the band All Tvvins

conor Conor Adams, left, with his bandmate - he now knows working in a bank is not for him.

These days he's used to travelling the world on tour and singing to thousands of people, but once upon a time Adams worked in a bank.

"I worked many part time jobs throughout school holidays and college but I think my first 'proper' job was in a bank in Dublin city centre.

"I had just come out of studying audio visual technology in DLIADT and after being unable to find anything in that area did an aptitude test for an interview in the bank. I'm pretty sure I got the job because one of the interviewers loved Pearl Jam and so we ended up talking at length about them!

"I've never been very punctual so I learned pretty quickly that that doesn't fly in a bank. This is a lesson that served me well in touring where punctuality is a necessity. I also learned quite a bit about foreign currency. However, as I was posted on the foreign exchange desk at the time of the euro changeover most of that information became irrelevant.

"The most important thing I learned was that I didn't want to work in a bank. I wasn't happy there and I wanted to pursue music. The people and steady pay cheque were very nice, don't get me wrong, but selling my hours and days to something I didn't love started to make less and less sense to me."

Tell us about your first job experiences in the comments below.

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