Why Your First Job Post-College Matters More Than You Know
College graduates are under pressure and in a hurry to find their first job quickly. However, their quest shouldn't be to secure something to get hired. It should be to find the right fit, recognizing the importance of choosing a role and company that will position them for success.
Do not take a “check the box” approach and simply accept the first role you're offered, as you might be taking a step backward. This first job is critical: It will be a barometer for future roles, serving as a basis of comparison as you develop professionally. It will be your “test drive” of the knowledge and skills cultivated during college, in and outside the classroom.
While you may have earlier work experience during school, in this first role, you will be interacting with other adult professionals in a peer-to-peer capacity. You and your parents invested time and money in your education, and you owe it to yourself to be sure that your first job is in harmony with your capabilities, goals and potential.
Your Career Legacy Starts Here
Do the role and the organization reflect your personal values and interests? If you find a position that you feel certain you are qualified for, ask yourself if you want to do it for that organization, working alongside the people in that company. If they are too conservative or liberal, or too structured or disorganized, you might like your work, but not the culture. If you take a position that doesn't work out, you can choose to leave, but realize that you will need to include it on your resume and explain it to future employers when they ask, “Why did you take that position?”
Avoid An Underemployment Trap
Taking a job that doesn't require a bachelor’s degree is known as underemployment. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 41% of recent graduates are currently underemployed.
Carefully study job postings before you apply. You may see job postings that are suspiciously similar for the same firm: One markets the role to “recent college graduates” while another, with the same duties, is aimed at people with no college experience. Seek work that will challenge you and provide an environment with peers who motivate and engage you. If you need to find work urgently, perhaps for economic reasons, seek out something flexible so that you can accommodate a concurrent job search for a meaningful first professional role.
Recognize A Revolving Door
A job post including the term “recent graduates” may yield roles that hire grads, but not all firms may be a good place to grow. As you interview, ask if the company has employed recent graduates, if there is training and what comes next after your first placement. Ask what their retention rates are for new employees at different time periods, like six months and two years.
Another scenario might be a terrific company offering a terrible job. If a recruiter spends more time telling you about what comes after this first role, probe to find out how quickly people seek the next opportunity. Is everyone looking to transfer three months after starting?
Internships Beyond Graduation
Consider paid internships in your job search. These may be prerequisites for full-time jobs. Firms are increasingly using internships and temporary roles as opportunities to assess talent before making permanent offers of employment. Internships of this nature are terrific skill-building, work experience and networking opportunities. A successful internship might lead to a full-time role after you prove yourself and will certainly make you more marketable to employers.
While working, continue pursuing your job search. Be sure to actively express your interest in full-time employment at the company hosting your internship.
Staying On the Job
Look for a role that you believe you will be happy in for two to three years at the outset and that matches your skill set. No one is expecting that you will stay for 25 years at this first company. In fact, according to one study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people hold an average of 12 jobs during their careers.
The first year of employment can be a challenge. As a young adult, the transition from the semester-by-semester cycle of college to full-time, permanent work is a major adjustment. In fact, most employers believe college grads are not prepared for the workplace. Understand the skills and proficiency level needed to succeed. Ask what sort of training new hires receive at the firm, including if there is a mentoring program or opportunities specifically for new employees to network. Seek out online programs or training schools that will help you continue to build the skills required in the workplace.
Ask For The Right Pay
If you found a great opportunity at an organization that matches your style, skills and values, ensure that you consider all components of the offer. Before getting to the offer stage, have a realistic and appropriate salary range in mind based on information gathered from your network and research.
When you receive an offer, you can immediately put it into context. Ask when there will be an opportunity for feedback, a formal review and consideration for a raise to ensure you have a clear expectation. Maximizing the salary for your first job will help you establish a good foundation for future increases.
As you search for and evaluate roles, get help from family and friends. If an opportunity is missing a key ingredient, seek guidance from others who have your best interests in mind, and get their impressions of the situation. Balance your zeal for simply finding a job with starting a career — one that you will be proud of growing.
The mission of Next Steps Navigation is helping college graduates navigate the ups and downs of finding their place in the world, by finding their right next step. Recognizing the huge gap between getting a college degree and the realities of entering the workforce, we developed our coaching program to help families navigate this critical transition. We’ll meet you where you are and get you pointed in the right direction to choose a job – and a life – that you love.