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Humble Beginnings: Where Today's Top CEO Got Their Start

06/15/2009 03:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hitting the streets this month, the class of 2009 has it tough. Unemployment is high -- 9.4% -- so whatever jobs the graduates do land this summer probably won't be the stuff of their ambitious dreams.

But you know what?

Some of the very most powerful executives in tech and media didn't start their careers in glamorous positions, either.

2009-06-15-billgatesyoung.jpgReview our slideshow of the first jobs today's top CEOs landed after college and you'll see they took three basic routes to power.

They toughed it out. After working as a bank teller in high school, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz waited tables and worked as a traveling sales person after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. Mark Cuban took a job he hated at Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer worked on something called the "Coldsnap Freezer Dessert Maker" for P&G.

They went home and built up the family business. Maybe after losing out in the larger job market, some of 2009's graduates will come home to work for their parents. It may feeling like losing, but it's not a bad way to go, looking at the careers of giants like Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone.

They created their own jobs. Others from this year's class will find going home is not even an option, and will perhaps consider starting new companies. That's what Bill Gates and Ev Williams did. It's worked out for them.

So congratulations, class of 2009! Here's more studying to do:

Or skip ahead in our list: