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11 Extraordinary Women on Their First Jobs

They say everyone starts somewhere, but it's hard to imagine accomplished women like Madeleine Albright and Sheryl Sandberg doing anything but leading their fields. That's why, in almost every interview, we ask our MAKERS about their first paying jobs. So often, these positions aren't grand or impressive, but instead involve waitressing or spending time in a mall. These women weren't born prodigies, and they didn't have a crystal ball that predicted the right career moves--so they spent time doing stuff that had (for the most part) no relationship with their present-day career. 

Whether you're beginning to dream about a career, or looking to shape yours, remember that every job will serve you in unexpected ways, but what you do doesn't ever have to define you.

1. Madeleine Albright, First Female Secretary of State

In Madeleine Albright’s high school years, she sold bras! Now, she advises presidents and companies. Hear her journey, in her own words.

2. Ellen Ochoa, Director of the Johnson Space Center

Ochoa’s first paying job was teaching flute lessons. She’s since played the flute in space! Why she encourages girls to go into science and space.

3. Joan Rivers, Comedian and TV Show Host

Rivers was a magician’s assistant for Kuda Bux, “the man with the X-Ray eyes.” She got sawed in half and was eventually fired for making jokes. Joan talks about the power of comedy on MAKERS.

4. Sarah Silverman, Comedian

Before she was winning Emmys and writing her own shows, Sarah Silverman was a cocktail waitress at a Mexican restaurant called ‘La Cantina.’ Hear how the rest of her upbringing led her to the stage.

5. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

Sandberg had her eye on the prize as an office manager at her father’s ophthalmology practice. She was also a retail sales clerk at the local mall. Learn how she moved into politics and then tech.

Sandberg as a teen

6. Katie Couric, Network News Pioneer

Before she made the news, Couric scooped ice cream at Gifford’s in Arlington, and doubled as a hostess at Pizza Hut. How she made her mark on TV.

7. Chelsea Handler, Comedian

Handler admits she wasn’t stellar at her first paying job. “I was a terrible waitress because I didn’t like anyone telling me what to do.” Thankfully, she found success running her own show.

8. Rita Moreno, Academy Award-winning Actress

At seven years old, Moreno performed at Bat Mitzvahs and weddings as a mini Carmen Miranda, with a fruit salad hat her mother made. A grown-up Rita Moreno became the first Latina to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in West Side Story.

9. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!

Before she became CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer worked as a grocery store checkout girl. How she got into computer science, Google, and finally Yahoo!

10. Christy Haubegger, founder of Latina Magazine

Haubegger’s first paying job was cleaning dental equipment. She learned, “Once you work in a dentist office, you never skip flossing, ever again.” How she moved towards entrepreneurship.

11. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube

Wojcicki orchestrated Google’s purchase of YouTube and then took on the job of leading the video company. But before Harvard and UCLA, she was another 14-year-old working as a restaurant hostess. Learn from her journey.