How Rachel Zoe, Oprah Winfrey, and Katie Couric Launched Their Careers

Sophie Miura

Everybody has to start somewhere. Whether it's working as a babysitter or selling shoes at the local mall, your first job is momentous. It teaches you valuable lessons about life, hard work, and who you want to become. A-listers and leaders Rachel Zoe, Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, and President Barack Obama shared the nostalgic story behind their first job in a series for LinkedIn. Scroll down to find out how some of America's most successful people launched their career.

Today she's CEO of Rachel Zoe Inc. and editor in chief of The Zoe Report, but Zoe had a similar start to millions of others—in retail. "My first job was as a sales associate at the Nine West store in Short Hills Mall in New Jersey," Zoe tells LinkedIn. "At the time I didn’t know I wanted to be a stylist (I was only 16 and thought I’d one day be a psychiatrist), but I loved the satisfaction of showing customers options they didn’t even know they wanted and having them walk away excited about their new purchase," she says.

First job wisdom: Building relationships is the foundation for a solid career. "Catering to people’s needs, understanding their insecurities and adapting my services accordingly came pretty easily to me. Mastering the art of interpersonal interaction made me the top seller in the store—repeatedly—and that skill has remained important throughout my career as a stylist, editor, and designer," she says.

Entering a talent contest on a whim proved to be the launchpad for Oprah Winfrey's career. She was babysitting for just 50 cents an hour when she got her big break. "I entered the Miss Fire Prevention contest sponsored by my local radio station WVOL in Nashville. Everyone, especially me, was shocked when I won," she writes. What came next was life changing. Winfrey visited her local radio station to collect the prize and was given the opportunity to hear her voice on radio. "He tore some wire copy, adjusted the mic, and rolled tape as I began to speak. I hadn’t finished three sentences before he called for another guy, then another, to Come listen to this kid read," she reflects. 

First job wisdom: You never know when your big break will happen, so always give your best. Winfrey says the chance opportunity to hear her voice on tape led to a career she'd never imagined. "I left the station that day with the biggest prize of all—my first job in broadcasting. I was 17 years old," she says.

Journalist Katie Couric was 18 years old when she received her very first paycheck. It was during her summer break after her senior year of high school, and Couric says it changed her perspective on work. "It was my mom’s idea to have my siblings and me work at the camp. I think she wanted to broaden our horizons beyond our 'Leave It to Beaver' life in Arlington, Virginia," she says. "What I didn’t realize at the time was how profoundly it would shape my life and my view of the world." Couric's job involved leading a group of blind children through activities and on field trips. "I learned so much about people from all different backgrounds, understood the importance of getting to work on time, sticking to a schedule, being patient and inclusive, and navigating group dynamics," she says.

First job wisdom: Always keep an open mind. "It became so clear to me that everyone, no matter what their limitations, has something to offer. Part of our jobs as human beings is recognizing that," says Couric. "That’s what I learned that summer."

He's one of the most powerful leaders in the world, but even President Barack Obama had to start somewhere. Obama says his first job taught him valuable lessons that built him into the man he is today. He worked as—wait for it—an ice cream scooper. "Scooping ice cream is tougher than it looks. Rows and rows of rock-hard ice cream can be brutal on the wrists," he tells LinkedIn. "As a teenager working behind the counter at Baskin-Robbins in Honolulu, I was less interested in what the job meant for my future and more concerned about what it meant for my jump shot."

First job wisdom: Give it a go. Obama says that although his first job wasn't glamorous, it taught him more than he expected. "While I may have lost my taste for ice cream after one too many free scoops, I’ll never forget that job—or the people who gave me that opportunity—and how they helped me get to where I am today."

Inspired to land a new job? Shop these chic notebooks to get organized, then visit LinkedIn for more inspiring first job stories. 

What was your first job? Share your story with us in the comments below

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