Your first job post-graduation is a big deal! It’s a huge milestone, and deserves piles of congratulations. Your first job will be one that you will look back and reflect upon constantly. It is a springboard for things to come, and your first foray into the professional world. Shedding student status is exciting and can be overwhelming at times. With all the pressure attached to your first job, how do you focus on the things that matter? Let’s even take a step back. What exactly are the things that actually matter about choosing your first job?
Important: Potential for growth
Your first job should give you a lot of opportunity to progress. However – don’t be fooled. Growth doesn’t always look like the traditional promotion and corporate ladder-climbing process. While that structure is great and gives you a good sense of your potential, be aware that opportunities to climb high are not so clear-cut. Sometimes, a job can grow with you, and you may be able to accumulate greater responsibility as you adapt. If your job responsibilities are amorphous and ever changing, that gives you a lot of leeway to craft your responsibilities – and your trajectory.
Important: Starting compensation package
Note: not everything is about the money. However, when choosing your first job, you want to set yourself up for more lucrative progression later on. Base salary is not the only lever at your disposal. If your offer is firm on salary, explore other benefits that are important to you. Perhaps you can get an allowance for continuing education or skills building classes. Smaller companies (such as startups) often offer flexible equity or stock options as part of the compensation package. The idea is to obtain the best market price for yourself as possible, and do it in a constructive way. You do not want to alienate your new employer, but you also want to demonstrate that you will bring value to company, and are willing to negotiate well.
Your first salary can have a significant impact on your total earnings over your lifetime, so keep that in mind as you develop your negotiation strategy!
Not Important: Industry and/or function
Your interests and passions are important to keep in mind as you go about choosing your first job, but be aware your first job does not dictate what you will be doing for the rest of your life! After all, millennials are shown to change jobs every three years, and you probably will be no exception.
If your new job isn’t in the field or function that you are interested in, don’t despair. Stay open-minded – you might end up enjoying your new field and role more than you think. Secondly, stay involved in the field you’re interested in. Set up coffee chats with folks in your area of interest and identify ways that you can cultivate the skills and experience you need indirectly within your job. For instance, if you’re interested in nonprofit, explore ways that you can contribute to that area in your current role. Does your company have a volunteer program? (If not, could you start one?) If you’re interested in entrepreneurship but end up at a larger corporation, look around for opportunities to head new initiatives, and make it known to your manager that you’re interested in owning a new project from start to finish.
Not Important: If your first job is not your dream job
Reality check: your first job will likely not be your dream job. And that’s ok. Work on developing a strong foundation wherever you are, and keep learning about the fields and positions that you want to end up in. Identify ways that you can make yourself more attractive to the market. Be clear about your goals and hold yourself accountable for achieving them. Learn about yourself, and how to develop professionalism, satisfy your curiosity and build strong relationships you can rely on later. Your first job is an opportunity to fail, learn and recover in a lower stakes environment, so take advantage of that.
Let’s be clear - you might not have the luxury of choice when it comes to your first job. However, knowing what to look for as you begin your professional life is critical to success further down the road. Whatever job you end up in after graduation, keep these things in mind as you progress, and remember to make the most of your first job!