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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

What to Look for in a First Job

You’re finishing up your final year in school, and it’s time to start considering your next move: your first job on the path to what’s sure to be a wildly successful career.

You probably know about the parent-approved must-haves: good salary, medical benefits, 401(k) matching. But what else should you keep in mind as you’re choosing that first position?

As you’re planning your first foray into the professional world, think about these four food-for-thought questions.

1. Where Else Could It Lead?

Your first job will likely be an important stepping stone in your career. So, you want to make sure that it can lead to more—and greater opportunities in the future.

Does the company you have your eye on offer a clear-cut career path for employees to advance internally? As you’re interviewing, ask questions about how project assignments are determined and ways that you’ll be able to gain more responsibility once you’re there. Inquire about your interviewers’ background and history with the company, look at employees’ LinkedIn profiles, and research the company's website to see how the high-achievers arrived in their positions.

Figure out what networking opportunities are available, too. Is there a budget for you to attend professional events? Will you work with high-profile clients that might open doors for you in another stage of your career? We’re not advocating looking for your second job as soon as you start your first, but it’s always a smart idea keep your eyes open to networking possibilities that will help you down the line.

2. Will it Make Me More Marketable?

If you know that you want to be in a certain industry or functional area, but you haven’t settled on a specific role, look for positions that allow you to build transferable skills.

For example, you may not want to work with databases long-term, but taking a role where you learn about different software packages, methodologies, and data mining can make you an excellent candidate for any future job that will require number-crunching and technical savvy.

Alternatively, you may not plan to stay in sales for the majority of your career, but if you start there and learn how to explain product features, assess customer needs, and manage your time effectively, your years spent “in the trenches” will make you marketable for a variety of positions.

3. Will it Make Me Well-Rounded?

The best way to build transferable skills is to be involved in different types of projects. It’s a great way to gain insight into roles you may not have otherwise happened upon, and at the same time gather brilliant experience and the ability to tell future potential employers “been there, done that!” So, look for positions that allow you to work with different functional areas and take projects that might be out of your comfort zone.

During the interview process, ask about how the teams work in the organization. Does each department work independently, or is it a collaborative process? Who will you report to, and will you have the chance to interact with and learn about different departments?

Look, too, for positions that allow you to dive into different types of projects. Startups and smaller companies can be great choices for this exact reason: on a tiny team, the marketing person may do some budgeting, the accounting person may need to pull data on customers, and the operations person may end up helping out with customer service. Working in an environment like this,you’ll not only get a good sense for other career options that might be available, but when you apply for your next job, you’ll be able show that you’re flexible and a team player—plus have a ton of diverse achievements to showcase on your resume.

4. Who Will I Learn From?

You won't know everything when you first start your career, and that’s okay. Your first job is supposed to be a learning experience—so look for a company that encourages the more seasoned employees to mentor and train newbies. Ask about opportunities to meet with other members of the organization, especially women who are a few levels above your current position (those are the brains you want to pick!).

Also ask about the chance to engage in training sessions so you can get a sense for how the company values ongoing education. Ask about new-hire orientation, too. Do they take time to show you how to succeed at the company, or do they throw you in the deep end and hope you can swim? (If so, this may not really be an ideal first company to work at.) Is your supervisor going to have an open-door policy, or will you be expected to figure everything out on your own? (Again—if that’s the case, think twice!)

It’s also not unusual for companies to pay tuition for relevant graduate degrees. Participating in a company-sponsored grad program can build your professional opportunities, plus get you a degree on someone else’s tab—a great perk to take advantage of if you can.

Finding your first gig is a thrilling and nerve-wracking time. Hey, we know it’s overwhelming! But with these helpful hints, you’ll be well on your way to a great career.

Photo courtesy of austinevan.