The Right (and Wrong) Way to Choose Your First Job
So, you’re a soon-to-be college graduate or a recent grad, embarking on the first job search to kick off your career.
Exciting? Yes. Difficult? Absolutely. Not only is this the first time you’ve really been faced with your professional future, you’re probably also feeling pressure from friends, family members, professors, and yourself to have a job before graduation.
I’ve been there. And unfortunately, this pressure to do everything right when I graduated led me to take a job that wasn’t a good fit for me—or for the workplace that hired me. I jumped at the first position I was offered without knowing what I should be looking for in my first career move, and truth be told, I ended up somewhere I hated.
Even though I now have a new job in a position that I love, looking back, I would have done things a little differently at the beginning. Here’s how to not make the same mistakes I did when selecting your first job out of college.
Don’t Let the Pressure Take Over
Yes, it’s true that many current college graduates are unemployed or “underemployed.” But that doesn’t mean you should settle for a position that isn’t right for you because you feel lucky to have been offered anything.
Actually, quite the opposite. Take a step back, think about what you want in a position, and do some solid research about the variety of options out there. Use sites such as Glassdoor, which can give you an inside look at companies, go on informational interviews—especially if you’re not sure what certain position types would entail—and read up on the industry trends for a bit of background information. Have some expectations of what you want and some minimum guidelines about what you’re willing to accept—and stick to them.
Also, resist putting so much pressure on yourself to have a job before you graduate. Many of your college peers won’t either, and it’s unnecessary anxiety when you should be enjoying the last few weeks of your college career. (Believe me, you won’t get those days back!)
Ask the Right Questions
My biggest mistake, arguably, in my first job search was that I didn’t ask the right questions. I didn’t ask questions that would give some insight to exactly what I was getting into—or almost any questions, for that matter, mostly because I didn’t know what to ask.
Don’t do this. Instead, have a list of questions ready: Ask the interviewers what they love about working for the company (hiring managers love this question), what characteristics will help you succeed in the position and company, and what a typical day would be like. Asking these types of questions will shed light on what the position requires, what the company you’ll be committing to is like, what your potential boss expects, and—most importantly—whether the opportunity is the right fit for you.
Remember, the more you ask, the more you know, and the better able you’ll be to evaluate your options.
Consider the Office Culture
Something I definitely didn’t realize until after the fact: There’s really nothing worse than joining a team you don’t mesh well with.
True story: I did the interview process remotely, and I went into my first day at my first full-time position expecting something along the lines of the offices I had worked in and visited in the past. What I found was a single room—smaller than my old dorm room—in which only four other individuals worked. Yes, I should have been more prepared, but clearly this was not what I was expecting.
Learn from my experience and do everything in your power to check out the office and team you’ll be joining (especially if you’re doing Skype or cross-country interviews). Then, consider whether that environment and culture will work well for you. Think of the past internships, organizations, clubs, or jobs you’ve been a part of in the past, and identify what you loved (or didn’t). Do you work best alone or on a team? In a loud, busting atmosphere or a quiet cube? Consider what motivates you and how comfortable you’ve felt in various offices—and try to find something similar to where you’ve thrived.
Remember Your 5-Year Plan
Yes, it’s scary to think about the future, and it’s hard to imagine what you might be doing in five years. But, when you’re making the first step onto your career path, it’s beyond important to make sure you’re at least headed in the right direction.
While your first job probably won’t be the last position or company you work for in your career, keep in mind that it is an important stepping stone. So be a little picky, and make sure that any job offer you take is offering you good experience or the opportunity to gain transferrable skills. For example, while my first position only gave me experience that was directly relevant to the company, my current role includes social media monitoring, motivating donors, and managing volunteers—all tasks that will help me for future positions.
You may not be on a straight path, but each step you take should, in some way, help you reach your ultimate end goals.