A first “real” job is like no other — and that’s a good thing.
Your parents want you to choose a job with a good salary, benefits, and 401(k).
You want something cool — work that’s engaging, fun, meaningful, meets all your dreams and expectations, and makes the world a better place.
Good news: For now, you can forget all of that. What you should look for in a first job is far more down to earth, and much easier to attain.
Experience. Your first job is just that — a first job. You’ll have others, maybe many others. So before you accept a job offer, consider it in terms of the experiences it will give you. Look for positions that will help you build transferable skills and offer good visibility into the workings of your industry.
Growth. Especially at the beginning of a career, it’s key to evaluate potential managers in terms of what they have to teach you. Ideally, you want bosses who are generous with their time and sincerely want to teach you. A great boss can be a fantastic jump-start to your career. Look for one whom you like, admire, respect and enjoy spending time with.
Potential. Now more than ever, you have time to pursue paths simply because they interest you, or even to travel down a few wrong paths. So feel free to experiment. Look for forward-thinking companies where people are willing to let you take on new challenges, learn to solve problems and build your skill set. Ask about opportunities for advancement. Don’t forget to consider the company’s history of growth and expansion.
Culture. You’ll be spending a lot of time at your new job, so you’ll want to be comfortable there. If you can’t be happy in a buttoned-up work environment that expects you to dress in suits, then recognize that right now and conduct your job search accordingly. When you’re interviewing, inspect the workplace. Is the atmosphere one you find appealing? At the same time, be open to stretching yourself. It’s not all about wearing flip-flops.
Finally, a word on behalf of your folks: Money is important. Benefits, too. If you have student loans to start paying down, then indeed salary is a major consideration and needs to be factored in. The key is balance.
Good luck! And welcome to the workforce.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.