59 Female CEOS Reveal Their First Jobs — and How They Actually Led Them To Success

by Sarah Fielding
Female CEO smiling while typing on her phone

For the third year in a row, Bustle’s Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond. Want to be an Upstarts honoree one day? Read on for career tips, insights, and inspiration to help get you there.

There's a Bumble ad that reads: "Be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry. (Then find someone you actually like)." The first time I saw it I was instantly excited by the strong message of female empowerment being projected. It signified that women no longer have to choose between being in a relationship and being successful. Today, more and more women are rising in the ranks or starting their own companies and finding themselves in charge. In 2016, Chicago-based consultancy Challenger, reported 1,043 CEO replacements at U.S. based companies. Of the new CEOs, 18.5 percent were women, up from 15 percent of new placements in 2015. Not only is this amazing for these women, but also for those around them. They are helping change society's way of thinking. When girls are asked what they want to be when they grow up, they can point to one of these inspiring women and say, "just like her."

The fight for gender equality at the top is long from over, though, with only 32 women CEOs on the 2017 Fortune 500 list. That's actually an improvement from the 21 female CEOs listed last year. It's a reminder of how important it is to encourage the next generation of women to reach as high as they want and throw gender norms out the window.

The decisions you make to create the career you want are undeniably important. “Making smart career choices is important because it will propel your career," Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster tells Bustle. “Making moves, even a lateral move that better positions you for upward advancement, are incredibly wise. Your priorities are unique to you. But your choices can change as you get older so it’s important to pursue opportunities and employers that fit into your life and goals."

But don't allow yourself to get too bogged down on choosing the right move all the time — sometimes the strangest paths lead us to exactly what we're looking for.

If you're searching for inspiration, look no further than these amazing female CEOs, presidents, and editors-in-chief listed below. Each shared their first job and how it, directly or not, led them to where they are now. Their amazing first job experiences that show that the path to success may vary, but the important thing is to keep moving.

"My first job was as a receptionist at an adult content company. I had just moved to Los Angeles, and I had a friend that knew someone who worked there. I took the job, thinking that it would only be a short-term gig — something I'd keep only until I found a 'real job.' Ultimately, it became the springboard into my career."
"As an Associate Product Marketing Manager at Google, I learned so many valuable lessons that I still refer to now in my current role as the CEO of WayUp. One of those things is to be a ‘learn it all, not a know it all.’ It’s essential to learn from smart and driven people, and have the desire to grow by constantly asking questions and absorbing information."
"My first job in public relations was after I graduated from the University of Chicago, when I chose to work as an intern. I graduated college in 2002, which was during an economic recession, so companies coming on campus to hire groups of graduates dwindled. This prolonged time to look for my first job ended up being a blessing, as it forced me to really think about what would motivate me at a job and what characteristics it needed to have. I went back to the various companies I had interned for and one of my bosses asked if I had ever thought of trying public relations. She thought it would be a good fit for me and set me up with a friend of hers that was a VP. I went on an informational interview and loved what I heard! I applied for an internship, got the job and, years later, started my own PR agency!"
"I started babysitting for pay at nine. For $3 an hour I would watch three kids under 10 and an infant (and I'd clean the house). I was stoked, because I got to drink soda and make myself a turkey sandwich. FTW! I was pretty responsible. When I was 15, I got my first paid freelance HTML web designer job. (I had started dabbling in coding at 12). I was modeling and acting from 15 to 18. My first paid gig was in a national Burger King commercial that ran during the NCAA final four. I made $20k off that one day of work (it all went to my family — we didn't have a lot of money). At 19, I got a marketing internship at IBM and was promoted to full time the next year. By then I was on my own and keeping that paper all to myself."
"Technically, my very first job was when I was seven years old — my father bought a donut shop in our small, rural town and he couldn’t keep me out of there…I wanted to work! So, he made me memorize the prices, learn to use the cash register (while standing on a milk crate), and only then was I hired at $4.25/hour. I worked there until I was 17, but by the age of 13 I was helping him with payroll, and, by 15, managing the front staff who worked for our business.
As a third generation entrepreneur, it was in my blood to start working in the family business at a very young age — and by doing that, I not only learned how to work hard for every dollar, which included waking up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays during the school year and working at the shop after school — and summers were spent happily by my dad’s side most days of the week. I learned by doing, but also watching how meticulous he was with making quality products, keeping the business ultra-clean, but first and foremost a focus on connecting with his customers. He would go make donuts at 11 p.m. the night before, come home and get me at 5 a.m. to go open the shop and by 8 a.m. he was done for the day — but he would always grab a cup of coffee, sit down with the regulars, and just chat. This customer-focused business approach has translated to how I run my business, Fitlosophy, now. All my product development is driven by (and often includes) my customers in the process, knowing that my purpose isn’t just to earn a living — but to change someone else’s. When I was in middle/high school, every one called me the 'donut girl' so I find it entertaining now that people often refer to me as the 'fitbook girl', lovingly after my flagship product that I created over nine years ago."
"I worked at a Tastee Freeze soft serve ice cream shop during high school. The job involved any number of potentially humiliating situations, such as wearing an ugly uniform and sweeping up debris in the parking lot when a carload of cool kids arrived to buy ice cream. What it taught me is that any job done well can never be humiliating. If you’re sweeping the parking lot, make it spotless. If you’re mopping the floor, make it shine... no job well-done is ever beneath anyone. This is just as true today as the CEO of an e-commerce start-up. In a small, growing company, everyone does anything that needs to be done. Are we out of coffee? I’ll order it. Are we scrambling to get boxes ready for the FedEx pick up? Hand me the tape gun. Does a customer have a question? I’m available."
"My first job before jumping into entrepreneurship was Executive Assistant to CEO (three CEOs over three years). I always knew that in order to one day become powerful you needed to stay close to power and so I did and learned from the top leaders in North America. Today, I coach these leaders and future leaders like me. It's all in my book Smoke & Mirrors: Strategic Self-Awareness for Leaders and Future Leaders.
“I had my own business that I started at the age of 11-18. I made fresh evergreen wreaths during the holiday season. I grew to make thousands a season and hiring employees. It made me a self-starter, and realize that I didn't have to take a normal path.”
"Florist's assistant: Despite graduating magna cum laude from an Ivy league school, this is the job I could find when I graduated in 2001. The bottom had just fallen out of the local economy in the bust, and I scrubbed buckets, learned to arrange flowers, and delivered arrangements all around the financial district.. Again, two key learnings: Often, the more glamorous a job appears from the outside, the tougher it is. This was more thorn and slime and manual labor than perfume and posies. Also, walking around downtown carrying flowers made me a target for all sorts of commentary and conversation. I learned how to discourage conversation without inspiring ire, which has served me very well in conferences and other places I've been a rare woman in a crowded male environment."
"My first job was in high school. I delivered mail at a law firm. I was paid minimum wage and thought I was rich when my first paycheck arrived. Granted I was still living at home so did not have to pay for rent, groceries or utilities! I learned a lot in that job, many lessons that have stuck with me in my career. Having a strong work ethic and good attitude goes a long way in building your reputation. I ran into one of the attorneys a few months ago when I was back in my home town and he told my husband what a great worker I was and how he knew I would have a successful career because I was always on time, willing to do whatever job they threw my way and always had a smile. Learning everyone's name and getting to know people in the office is genuinely appreciated. I always said hello and exchanged small talk when I delivered mail and people seemed to enjoy that personal touch. Everyone needs to pitch in when things get busy. I was often asked to answer phones, deliver packages to clients outside the office, run errands, etc. and was always happy to do it. That was great training to be a boss and entrepreneur in fact, You never know when you will need to roll up your sleeves and pitch in!"
"I’ve worked since I was 13. I’ve always had multiple jobs at once — I found it allowed me freedom of choice when it comes to having the resources to do the things I enjoyed, and it was also a good outlet for me and the energy I have to stay busy and energized. My first W2 job was a dishwasher at a restaurant. I worked after school, holidays, nights; packing in as many hours as I could. Before graduating college, I moved to Dallas for three months, working at a behavioral clinic for children. Kids with conditions like ADHD, bipolar disorder, Asperger’s and Autism came here for help. ​Though this was a temporary job by design — I worked there for three months — it was the hardest job I’ve ever had; even harder than what I do now. It was difficult because it was so emotionally challenging; I couldn’t just leave my job at the clinic at night, and I always felt like the impact I had needed to be more...more...more. ​Experiencing wins felt small to me although they were incredibly important and meaningful to the children. It was almost overwhelming in that it was one person at a time, and I knew I would never be able to help everyone in a way that was satisfying to the hunger I've always had to drive big change through people. I wanted to impact people on a larger scale.

Every job you have is a stepping stone to what you are doing today. At least it should. It does for me. My job at the clinic brought out in me the desire to instill large-scale behavior change for people​. As the CEO of YouEarnedIt and as an entrepreneur in tech, it’s clear that this same notion of caring deeply about driving change at scale can be accomplished through the intersection of positive behavior change and tech for scale, which is what we do at YouEarnedIt."​
“My first job was at a place called Game Town. I was 13 years old and they hired me to waitress for their parties. The combination of starting to work at a young age and my first job being in the restaurant industry helped me get to know an industry that I would grow to love. Now, owning two of my own restaurants, I look back and know that the experience working as a waitress and bussing tables was experience in one aspect of the restaurant industry at a young age.”
“I started out in finance as a trader on Wall Street. In a male-dominated work environment, I was frustrated that men had suitcases perfectly made for work, whereas women’s accessories didn’t support their increasing leadership and boardroom roles, so I envisioned closing this small but powerful fraction of the gender gap by eliminating intimidation from the workplace and offering opportunity — in the form of chic handbags that serve our modern day needs, JEMMA!
"My first professional job as a citizen in the USA was as an Executive Assistant to the President of Elizabeth Arden. As much as I knew that I was overqualified for the position I wanted to leverage my communication and acting skills as a budding actress. I grew up in South Africa and without any American work experience, I knew my accent set me apart and would give me access to future opportunities in the Cosmetics industry. The fact that I had an accent differentiated me, and I was able to communicate effectively, and as a result, people remembered me because I sounded different! So, getting my foot in the door was somewhat easy. However, in order to be recognized for my work ethic and abilities I knew I had to prove myself in a very competitive environment, so I paid great attention to details and never said no whenever I was asked to do ‘menial’ tasks —e.g. make coffee, set up the board room for meetings, and offer to help executives with their travel plans. I would say that 'never giving up' and 'paying attention to details' have been two factors that have helped me achieve my goals with executive positions in the Cosmetics Industry and in running my own business."
“My first job was at 12 years old working for my mother who was one of the first women to open a Carvel franchise in 1974, and it most definitely shaped who I am as a CEO and Executive. Because I was trusted and an integral part of my mother's business, I learned very early on that I had to be proactive in all situations that arose to protect the daily operations of the business, to deliver measurable results and give 100 percent because I was the owner's daughter and I was held to a much higher standard than the other employees.”
"I applied for my first real job as soon as I turned 14 and could legally be employed in the state of Illinois. I eagerly awaited this moment for as long as I could remember, as I spent many an "I'm bored" rainy day playing make-believe as a working woman with my Rolodex by my side — scheduling appointments, making transactions, and providing stellar customer service to my imaginary customers. Luckily, the first place I applied hired me on the spot. I'm a firm believer that every experience along the way helps us get to where we are now. In the case of the local bagel shop, I learned the lesson early that there are days when you get to be front and center experiencing the satisfaction of serving up piping hot fresh blueberry bagels to customers who were so excited about your product they were banging down the front door before you even opened. Then, on the flip side, there are days when you need to roll up your sleeves and get yourself to the back sink, hunched over steaming hot water, washing out vats of crusted cream cheese for hours on end. The job of a startup CEO always has and always will require the "get it done" mentality. I'm proud to say that getting into the workforce early in a front-line service role helped cultivate that work ethic that contributes to my success today."
"My first job during high school was as an office temp. My role primarily consisted of data entry, file sorting, document copying, delivering packages, letter mailing, etc. One thing that experience taught me was the importance and value of hard work. It is that drive and passion that has served me well as a start-up founder. Today, I still wear multiple hats including still going to the post office and copying documents. Because I am willing to roll up my sleeves and take on any task, my team responds in kind. Ego is removed from the equation so we can focus on our common goal of building a successful business."
"My first job was as a shareholder services associate for J.P. Morgan. What this means, it non-financial terms, is that I assisted owners of J.P. Morgan funds in transactions over the phone for nine hours a day. We serviced advisors, individual shareholders, corporations, and the more than occasional wrong number. You never knew who was going to be on the end of that phone. The funny thing about people is that they are fickle. A seemingly great conversation could go horribly wrong. A bad conversation could turn out surprisingly well. When you are in a client facing or customer service role, you are the punching bag. It's OK to be the punching bag because the client's emotions are rarely due to or because of you. The emotions are because they have a problem and you need to solve it. Learning how to problem solve in real time and with a lot at stake may be the only reason I had the courage to start a company. So, yes, I would credit where I am today because of that role."
"My entrepreneurial spirit started young, I remember hanging flyers to walk dogs, babysit, and would even pay for a single newspaper from the box on the corner and go door to door selling the Sunday paper at a premium price (to account for convenience and demand of course). At 15, my first job was as a personal assistant to a family who owned a number of Haagen Dazs ice cream shops. They gave me flexible hours, so after school, I would show up, file paper work, run errands like bank deposits and grocery shopping to keep the office stocked with drinks and snacks, and then leave in time for soccer practice at night. My first job taught me time management and responsibility, and I even successfully negotiated a pay increase from $20 to $25 an hour! I leveraged my skill set and performance along with their need for a reliable and friendly office assistant, who was comfortable wearing many hats. These skills and their positive recommendation allowed me to continue to build my resume from a young age."
"My first job was working at PetSmart. I was making about $5.50/Hr. I learned the basics of running a business and how to deal with customers. I also realized that I needed to be the boss someday and that I didn't want to work for someone else for the rest of my life."
"My first job was as a telemarketer! You know the ones who try and convince you to let a vacuum salesman into your living room by offering you a free stay at a timeshare? I learned so many communication skills through that job. I picked up the phone and called hundreds of strangers every day (literally, my job was to read through the Yellow Pages and call people in order!) and it really did prep me for my future career in public relations, which still challenges me to strike up conversations with reporters and influencers I don't know in an effort to introduce them to my clients. As a publicist specializing in the world of impact, I have to say it feels a lot better to introduce them to causes they care about than it did a household appliance so expensive they might need a payment plan."
"My first "job" was selling lemonade at a homemade lemonade stand. There was a large park and three baseball diamonds across the road from the home my family moved into when I was five years old. I recall setting up a table with lemonade and selling it to thirsty participants and fans during baseball tournaments when I was maybe eight years old or so. It definitely fed into what became a life long interest in entrepreneurship —seeing a need or an opportunity and using my skills and abilities to do what I can to meet that need. I also needed to be organized, to seize opportunities when the games were on, and sell, sell, sell!"
"I grew up in Hawaii and my first job was walking around the beaches with a beautiful parrot on my shoulder, in a Hawaiian wrap, asking people if they wanted me to take a picture of them with my bird. This was 20 years ago, before digital cameras or smart phones. How does this relate to what I do today? It taught me a valuable lesson about the sales funnel. You see, I would take a picture of the family with the bird on a beautiful beach. Overnight, the photos would get developed and made into postcards. Then, someone would deliver the postcards to the family and ask them which ones they'd like to purchased. We'd all split a commission on the sale so the key to making money was to ensure that one, I took as many pictures as people would let me, two, I was authentic and upfront about what to expect in order for me to get their real hotel and room number, three, the photo captured a memory good enough to share with relatives in a postcard. It was all about the customer journey — filling your funnel and ensuring conversion along the way. It's interesting that after 20 years and in a completely different industry, the same principles apply."
"My first job out of college was an extension of my college internship — I served as a tour guide for the Massachusetts State House. I provided historical and legislative process tours to student groups and tourists. I was also the editor of the division newsletter called 'The Guides’ Gazette.'
The job taught me several things that are still relevant to my position today — my first job taught me to one, conquer my fear of public speaking and make compelling presentations that keeps audiences alert and engaged. Two, work with a wide variety of personalities and cultures. Three, hone my writing and editing skills. Four, manage newly-hired volunteers. Five, dress elegantly and professionally — the tours division was run by one of the most elegant women and earliest mentors I had — a woman named Anita Smith who was always impeccably dressed. Years later, I realized that I’ve copied her style!"
"I grew up in my family’s business, where my mom and dad had a chain of pre-schools. I got involved at eight to 10 years old when my dad and I would spend the weekends at the schools to clean toilets, mow lawns and do other maintenance. My dad and I would talk business during these weekends at work. As I got older (when I was in high school), I handled accounts payable and accounts receivable and other business or management aspects. This job made me realize how much I loved business. I always wanted to be a leader in a business. Maybe that's in my DNA.”
"My first job was as a lifeguard the summer after high school. Aside from the 'glamour' of a great tan and working at a prestigious country club, we also had to clean the garbage and do a ton of dirty jobs. I realized that no job is or ever will be glitz and glamour. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's rare that those moments happen but you keep at it, doing all the dirty work, for those few moments of glory!"
Hannah Burton/Bustle
"My first job was a cashier at Toys"R"Us during the holiday season. I would definitely say it has helped get where I am today as I ended up in PR. The job required me to learn how to speak with customers in a calm, helping manner, regardless of how they were speaking to me, how to problem-solve, be a quick thinker, work on a large team and more. I went on to work at a few additional retail stores throughout high school and college and I think they all played a part in my current success."
"My first job was working in my father’s small grocery store in Brookfield, Wisconsin. It was frustrating for me to just sit back and wait for customers to come in and buy items in spite of how hard my father worked. He was not rewarded for all his hard work and died too young because of it. Today, I run a strategic communications firm which reaches customers with information from our clients. We build smart, education-based programs that reach people where they want to be reached. I refuse to sit back and wait for customers to come to us."
"My first job was as a check out gal at a grocery store in rural New Jersey. It absolutely helped me. It was my first experience learning about customer service and how to deal with people in sometimes trying situations. It was important to learn how to calm impatient customers down when there was a line, when they fight with you over a price of an item or a coupon and you really learn how to remain calm and pleasant at times when people can just be down right rude. I have certainly remembered many moments of my years at the grocery store when I deal with any tricky client."
"My first job was a professional princess.. I worked at FAO Schwartz toy store in New York City as the "FAO Princess" during summer while I did an unpaid internship at the publicity department of Miramax Films. Not only did the job support me financially while I was learning at the internship, but it taught me important skills as well that I still use in my work today. As princess, I learned the importance of creating memorable experiences and telling engaging stories. My favorite part of being the FAO princess was that I got to bring joy to someone's day and watch them light up with a big smile. Today, that is still my favorite thing about my job in PR, calling my clients with great news about winning them an award or securing them a top notch placement."
"I got my first full-time job right out of grad school.. I was a public health researcher in DC. I designed, developed, implemented, and evaluated national behavior change campaigns for the EPA, DOE, and CDC. I managed large projects, teams, and budgets. In that role, I identified and experienced the problem that I'm working to solve with my company, Baloonr. I was able to apply my research background and science translation approach to solving it — both of those skills were strengthened in that first job. I also learned team and project management and business development skills that were essential to my growth. Most importantly, I learned that I wanted to start my own company and bring something from idea to fully executed vision."
"My first job was an ice cream scooper at Baskin Robbins when I was 14 years old. I was always wanting to work, even at a young age, and I had to get my parents permission to work because I was too young to work in the state of New Jersey without parental consent. Clearly I always had a sweet tooth, so obviously I would end up owning my own bakery. I loved being around ice cream all day, and also loved serving people and seeing the different flavor combinations people put together."
"I became a correctional officer after earning my degree in psychology with an emphasis in criminal justice. Day after day I would feel unsatisfied by my work, which I was, admittedly, ill-fitted for. One passion I’ve had since a young age is soap making, and it brought me joy to create homemade soaps after long days as an officer. I left the criminal justice system at 20 years old, when I recognized there was a gap in the market for high quality products and ingredients for soap making, and started Bramble Berry Handcraft Provisions right in my living room.
Even though my original career does not have much relation to my soap-making business, everything in my past has brought me to where I am today. I learned the importance of managing my own attitude and learned that happiness was a choice. During that time period, I also learned that creativity is essential."
“I started working at a very young age and was taught early on the importance and value of a strong work ethic. One of the most valuable lessons I learned early on in my working days was at my job as a Customer Service Representative at an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon & Spa. I was 14 and I was a glorified front desk person. I would answer the phones, book spa and service appointments, and I’d take care of the clients that came into the salon. But one of the things I learned that has always stuck with me was the idea of treating every single client as they are the most important person in the room. We learned their names, their spouses names, their birthdays… we treated them with a high level of dignity and respect. We memorized their preference for juice or cucumber water. It didn’t matter if the client was a weekly regular that spent thousands of dollars a year in the salon or came in once a year for a haircut, every client was important and valued. That has always stuck with me as I’ve implemented that into every job I’ve held since. Whether it’s the cashier at the grocery store, the employee I see regularly at the drive through window, a reader on my blog, or an advertiser I’m partnering with… I do everything I can to let that person know that I care. I want to get to know them and form a relationship with them. Because at the end of the day, relationships matter and strong relationships are what can differentiate me from the rest.”
"My first paying job was working at my parents' dental practice. I filed thousands of patient files in the dingy, way back filing room while listening to soft rock and the dental drill buzz away. Then I would mail hundreds of hand written postcards with a dorky set of teeth on the front to patients who needed to come in for a regular cleaning. I also had to call patients to confirm their appointments for the following day. I was 13 years old. This was an excellent position to hone customer relationship skills, for certain."
"One of my first jobs was to stop people on the street and ask for their opinion about different, city-related matters such as how they like a certain park or how safe they feel in a certain city. I was paid per survey, and they assumed I could only get one person per hour to fill in the 20-minute survey with me. I could chose when and where I wanted to work.. So I only went out when the weather was beautiful and people were sitting in the park eating ice cream. I always approached entire groups and had at least five instead of the one survey filled out. It was the best paying job of my life. I learned the most crucial thing of all for entrepreneurs — I learned to deal with rejection. Many people thought I wanted to sell them something or was trying to sign them up for some organization. So I got many different varieties of 'no's', 'NO!'s' and 'Nooooo’s'. But I got over it and went on to talk to the next person. And, in the end, it paid out."
“My first job was selling makeup at a beauty counter, helping women boost their self-confidence and providing them with products to look and feel their best. That cosmetics background opened the door for me to take on an exciting and challenging role working for an international direct selling company. It was a scary step into a different industry, but the fact I’d be helping empower women to not only look their best but achieve success as independent business owners convinced me to take the leap. Now as a recently published author of Fearless Living: 8 Life-Changing Values for Breakthrough Success, President and CEO of 54-years-young Princess House, one of the founding companies of the direct selling industry, I am able to share my personal journey and motivate women who are looking for an entrepreneurial path to financial success and personal fulfillment.”
"My actual first job was when I was a freshman in high school, when I worked at a kayak and outdoors shop. I was so, so poorly qualified for the job and intimidated that I thought wearing hemp necklaces would help me vibe with the other employees. It didn't, and it turned out to be the only job I ever got fired from. It taught me that life goes on and not to try too hard to be something you're not just to fit in."
“I have always been infatuated with cosmetics, particularly skincare. The first job that kick-started my career and showcased my entrepreneurial spirit was working for a dermatologist in product development to create a clinical skincare line. This absolutely set the groundwork for where I am today. I fully developed a brand with very little resources and did everything from concept ideation (creating product names and writing marketing copy) to product testing and evaluation. As I continued on in my career, my passion for the industry and skincare continued to grow. In this industry you need to be a self-starter — when the chance to create my own skincare line presented itself, I immediately seized the opportunity!”
"My first job was as a Business Analyst at Carol H. Williams, an African American advertising agency. I was responsible for analyzing market, competitive and consumer trends to inform advertising strategy as well as the impact of advertising campaigns on the brands success metrics. To this day, several learnings from this early experience continue to be impactful. I cut my first teeth as an analyst here. My boss explained to me that analytics is both a science and an art. It’s all about telling the story of the business through the data. Learning how to do this early has been invaluable to me in my career and is especially core to my job as a CEO. By working on such 'huge' accounts, I gained some initial insight into how brands define and measure success and think about their relationship with their users. Having first-hand experience defining target audiences, thinking about their motivations and seeing marketing messages tailored that audience made a big impression on me. So much more valuable than Marketing 101 in college."
"I was in my first year of law school and bored by the material but very interested in journalism. I got in touch with the suburban bureau of the Toronto Star and started covering school board meetings and community events for them at night. That led to a summer job at Ottawa's major newspaper, which I loved. I put law school on hold and learned that the only full-time job open at the Toronto Star was as a fashion reporter. Fortunately, the editor interviewing for the job knew less about fashion than I did. That job opened the door to an editor's job at Women's Wear Daily, and from there to my editor-in-chief positions at YM, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour magazines."
“My first job was working at McDonald's restaurant. It was during this time I learned the sheer importance of customer service and leadership skills. It was this keen attention to customer service that led me to develop OCG+'s core values, chief among them, our pride and value in partnerships over simply clients.”
"My first job in New York City was working for a men's tie company that made ties for most menswear designer brands. It was a small company and right out of college, I shadowed the two guys that ran the company, which exposed me to every aspect of the business from design to sales to production. It was an old school company and I quickly learned how important it is to always be entrepreneurial and push the boundaries of ‘traditional' business. It's important to always think of new ways to change the business model to make it more effective and relevant."
"My first job in New York was doing sales for a diamond jeweler. The greatest lesson I learned was that there are no shortcuts to achieving greatness no matter the field — just hard work, persistence and passion. I was able to see how much goes into creating and running a business and learned a great deal about working with different kinds of personalities, as well as the importance of being someone people want to work alongside and for. Positive energy and drive go a long way as does open-mindedness, compassion and authenticity."
"My very first job was after school and weekends during high school as a kitchen assistant in a nursing home. It was an unglamorous, repetitive, minimum wage job. Every day I had to prep with the cook, set up the dining room, serve each table, bus each table, then wash all the dishes and wash down the kitchen and dining room. It was also a strict rule that I had to be in and out within three hours — no extra time allowed. So it was mundane and stressful at the same time, for about $15 a day. The best part was the residents — I loved chatting with them and just wished I could spend more time getting to know them all.I have a very active mind and am rather impatient, and was getting very frustrated with the job. I expressed that to my dad, who is Dutch and highly practical. He told me to challenge myself to see how I could do each task better, faster, more efficiently. Make it like a game. Don't be too proud to do honest dirty work. And to start thinking about what I would like to be structurally different in a 'real job'. The whole experience taught that I wanted to have a project-based career. One where I could work super hard to achieve a specific goal and deadlines that come and go. One where I could improve upon my work project by project and always feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
"Growing up, I would help my mom with her medi spa in all aspects of the business. She taught me about customer service, beauty + skincare, and the true meaning of self care. Fast forward decades later, I own my very own spa, Chillhouse, and am putting my spin on what I felt was missing in the space all along. It's kind of wild seeing my life go full circle like this."
“My first real job was working at one of the most popular restaurants in town — Trio’s... Trio’s was where I got bitten by the restaurant bug that will always be a part of me. Restaurants are where I feel happiest and the most comfortable with ‘my people.’ Trio’s remains one of my favorite restaurants and I go, without fail, every time I go back home to Arkansas. The intense combination of passion, sweat, tears, perseverance and incredible food (night-after-night) is a heady and addictive mix that is a key part of what continues to drive me daily.
"I consider myself lucky. My first job was actually the 'spark' that ignited my passion for healthcare and helping people, and was instrumental in shaping my career. My plan after college was to work for a women’s organization. With very few jobs out there, I took an administrative position with a then-small medical association, the National Center for Homeopathy.
Rolling up my sleeves and embracing the work (no task was too mundane!), I soon realized that I loved healthcare and educating consumers. I also learned how to become a marketer. Working for a non-profit played to my desire to help people — so I had it all in one — people-focused and business-driven, which was the definition of my future! Building on all I had learned, I later went on to work for United Way and Planned Parenthood, which further defined my career in healthcare public relations. Years later, now I’m proud to be the CEO of GCI Health, a healthcare public relations and communications agency."
"I worked as a personal assistant and nanny throughout high school. Two lessons that I've taken with me from those jobs are — be curious and problem solve! Being curious leads to more learning potential and makes everything more interesting and fun. You never know when that information will be useful again in the future! Problem solving was critical in the first few years of Nisolo. There were so many "firsts" for us as we figured out how to best run the company — from how to design the case packs that the shoes are shipped in to setting up a formal entity in Peru to be able to export to the US. While some tasks were tedious and could’ve been frustrating, approaching them from a place of curiosity made it all an adventure!"
"After graduation I had this somewhat misguided idea that I would be a stockbroker so I spent the first six months post grad studying for my Series 7. It was a really dark time! But the notion of a career in finance dissipated the moment I landed my dream job as a buyer and planner at my dream fashion company. I told the CEO on my very first day that I would give the role everything I’ve got, which was a bold statement for sure. I was not classically trained in fashion and was thrown into the whirlwind of an industry of which so many girls dream. I was promoted and given an incredible amount of responsibility at such a young age. Being able to see the evolution of a dress and everything that goes with it gave me the foundation for starting my own company, MESTIZA New York."
"My first job was pouring water at banquets at my parents' catering hall in Chicago, Illinois. I was 11 years old. As I got older, I graduated to working in the cloak room on Saturday nights during the biggest parties of the week. I used to peek through the grand french doors when the parties were in full swing and fell in love with the glamour. Because I got a behind-the-scenes look at what drove these events, especially the kitchen, I knew that catering wasn't for me. I did, however, always love the glamour. My favorite events were the weddings. When I moved to California and got a part-time job at age 16, I worked weekends in a bridal salon as a stock girl. I loved the gowns. I loved the fact that the brides were so excited all the time, and I loved how easy it seemed to sell such an expensive item just because a bride 'fell in love' with it. It was this motivation that led me in the direction of retail. My first business was selling menswear, but I yearned for bridal. Soon thereafter, I purchased and re-branded my own bridal salon. So many families began asking me to assist in their wedding planning, in addition to styling the bridal party. As such, I began to design, plan and produce weddings. Not wanting to compete with the local planners who sent their clients to me, I primarily accepted destination weddings. The most incredible one was at the Vatican in Rome. This all led to me starring in my own reality show on TLC: Brides of Beverly Hills, which inspired me to pursue more varied entrepreneurial endeavors. Wedaways combines years of off-line experience, the love of weddings, travel and customer service in an digital platform."
“I began my career as an Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer at the leading international law firm, Mishcon de Reya. During my time there, I received a call from one of the partners who had a new client — a “young guy with a killer business.” That young guy was Andrey Andreev, founder of Badoo..I became Badoo’s in-house legal counsel, setting up the legal function, before moving to acquire other reporting lines in the business (HR, Finance, BI), and most recently becoming Deputy CEO, where I began the working day-to-day with Andrey as his right hand. I continued working in the dating industry for five years, but after I became a mama to my son Finally three years ago, the dating world became less relevant to me.
It was then that I realized there was an opportunity and a need to bring dates to mamas, and I set out to create a product that spoke to this incoming generation of mobile-first mamas who are used to using beautifully designed apps, and to help facilitate connections between mamas that were not only nearby to one another but who actually had things in common too. It all came to fruition this past March when we successfully launched Peanut!”
“My first job was during my junior year of high school. I worked at my town’s local bakery making boxes and helping customers. This was my first exposure to the world of small business ownership and it inspired me to want to start my own business someday! I carry that inspiration with me to this day.”
"Growing up with parents who were entrepreneurs showed me what dedication and sacrifice really meant in owning a business. My first memories of my parents owning a business were my mom taking me all over town running errands all day. So I guess my first job was an errand runner... I just remember at four and five they were always talking to each other about business.
The first paying job I had was when I was 12 and my mom told me to total up the employee time cards, which I had no idea what I was doing. Of course, I did it wrong the first time and got in trouble. That experience had an impact on me not because I had to redo everything, but because she wasn't mad that I did them wrong. She was upset that I didn't let her know that I needed more training and instruction on what to do. It was the start of teaching me to say what needed to be said no matter how uncomfortable it is because in the end it will come back to you and it will be even more difficult to deal with."
"In my first unpaid job as a first-time entrepreneur in college, building a business in a market I knew little about, the best take away was how bold I was on what could be accomplished based on nothing contrarian to that point that limited my ambition. I wish I could tell others to be bold and ‘go for it’ in determining their impact and potential contributions earlier in their career — ideally, their first or second job — as these are the opportunities and windows that can leapfrog a career, and perhaps more interestingly, develop a network of supporters and influencers for the future.”
Hannah Burton/Bustle
“After graduation, I moved from Tennessee to Colorado and worked for a company that rented, leased, and sold computers. I interviewed with the owner of the company, who liked my Southern accent and wanted to hire me as his secretary. I said, ‘I’m not looking to be a secretary. I have an accounting degree,’ and there was an accounting position open. He was willing to pay me more than what the accounting job would’ve paid because he wanted me to be his secretary since I had a cute Southern accent. So I bought voice tapes and trained myself on how to talk without a Southern accent. I went back to the same company, interviewed with the general manager and got the job. On the second day of the job, I saw the owner of the company again, and he looked at me like I looked familiar, so I had to help him connect the dots. I ended up working for them for three to four years. That experience taught me not to take ‘no’ for an answer. Since then, I’ve leveraged that passion and perseverance to quickly ascend the corporate ladder, open my own home care agency and franchise it, leveraging one idea into a national chain of over 300 agencies. My experience with franchising has taught me that it’s a proven road for women to become entrepreneurs. For that reason, I’ve dedicated much of my time as Chair of the International Franchise Association to furthering the opportunities for women to become entrepreneurs.”
"My first job was as an assistant for Adrian Grenier's production company making cold calls to big brands trying to convince them to sponsor his TV show Alter Eco and his documentary, Teenage Paparazzi. The most valuable thing I learned was how to creatively close deals with big companies by putting myself in the shoes of big executives. My experience was very relevant to my success in raising money because my approach to pitching VCs [venture capitalists] is not very different."
"My first job was at a bakery in Morristown, New Jersey when I was a teenager — and I am now the CEO of one of the largest background screening companies in the world, a more than 4,000 person firm, spanning nine countries. How did I get here? Leading a large technology-driven company is much different than working the counter at a bakery, but I always recall the lessons I learned in my first job at the bakery. These lessons taught me early on that hard work leads to more rewarding work and that a diverse employee base is invaluable. I've taken these lessons with me throughout my career.
I treasure my first job experience. It was eye-opening to see how the owner and his full-time employees would begin work at 4 a.m. to make sure customers would have fresh-baked goods to start their day.. This experience also exposed me to people with vastly different backgrounds than my own. We were like the United Nations of the baking industry. The owner was Swiss-German and the other employees were from Finland, Switzerland and Vietnam. I loved being exposed to different cultures and this taught me how valuable diversity is in life and in business."
"My first part-time job was sorting potato chips at my father's Cape Cod Potato Chips factory after school. I always wanted to cook the chips, but my father wouldn't let me because 'I was too young to stand over a kettle of hot oil with a hand rake' — something we disagreed on! I was on the sorting line with Carol Lee and Marjorie and we would inspect thousands of potato chips as they made their way down the conveyer. One of the biggest takeaways from this experience is that the attitude of the people in the most entry-level jobs can often be the best indicator of a company's greatness. I think about this all the time in my current role as CEO & Founder of my own snack company, Late July Snacks."

Inspired yet? Each of these women used every opportunity and skill they had to rise to the top. They are the true embodiment of the phrase "girl power." Let their stories remind you that with some guts and determination there's no reason you can't become exactly who you want to be.