5 Things to Look for in Your First Job

As you deliberate your next steps, many of you will look to the job market.  Below are 5 recommendations for helping you with your search.

Where is the market growing?

Finding work that you love in an organization you feel really good about is amazing.  If the industry or the organization is growing, then the opportunity for you to stay engaged and allow your career to grow in that environment is excellent.  However, if the industry is in a downturn or the company is failing, your exciting new role may be short-lived.

Learn more about industries that are innovating and organizations that are creating change in their sector.  It doesn’t have to be a tech startup to provide growth.  Many nonprofits are changing how they serve their audiences, and new industries emerge daily as the “gig economy” continues to grow.

What could this position lead to next?

Some students focus so much on their initial job that they fail to think about it in the context of future opportunities. It’s a HUGE milestone that will bring opportunities and pitfalls with it.  Recent data indicates that Whitman graduates make an average of 4.4 career moves in their first 5 years after graduation.  So while that first step is important, we encourage you to look beyond your starting position and consider how the organization will help you move to the position after that and the position after that.  

As you research an organization, find out if they invest in the growth of their employees with professional development opportunities and internal movement.  Be sure to include this in your research.  Look for employee LinkedIn profiles that show consistent advancement throughout an organization.  Ask questions in your interview about how projects are assigned and how professional growth is recognized.  What other offices, departments or organizations will you work with?  Are there conferences or sales meetings that will help you broaden your exposure?  Is there a clear method for evaluating performance and rewarding merit?  You don’t want to ask how long you should expect to be in the position, but perhaps get an understanding of whether they know what it takes for you to be prepared for a new role.

How will this position grow your skills?

The best way to expand your toolkit is to seek out positions that require skills outside of your wheelhouse, pushing you to learn new skills that may be useful down the road.  I recently heard a young graduate share the advice to “apply even if you feel you’re only qualified for 35-40% of the job.”  A role you know well and have done before will not push you to learn as much as something that challenges you.

Consider roles that that may help you focus on an area where you wish to round-out your skill set.  If your ideal position is a product manager and your background is more creative, a marketing research position will strengthen your understanding of how data drives marketing decisions and strategies employed in a product manager role.  If you aspire to run a non-profit addressing community issues, spending some time in a development or sales role will help you hone your influencing skills, which are crucial to nonprofit administration.

How will this role help your marketability?

Focusing on organizations where positions encompass broader responsibilities and are often asked to participate in projects with cross-functional teams will build skills and understanding in new areas.  You’ll often find this kind of environment in smaller, younger or startup organizations.  If you work in marketing but join a budget analysis project, you’ll grow your fiscal knowledge and make new connections in accounting and operational areas of the business.

The networking that this kind of work facilitates will also increase access to new postings in other areas of the business – possibly before they are public – which would give you an edge on a new opportunity for career growth.

Who will I learn from?

Organizations that are growing often hire for potential and expect their new hires to quickly learn the skillsets needed for a particular role.  Consider how an organization will help you get up to speed and who will guide you through that process.  Look for organizations that have mentoring programs based on the type of support you need.  They can be formalized or ad-hoc, so knowing how you want to learn about the company’s culture and processes is important to your success and enjoyment.

New-hire orientations are becoming the norm across many sectors and organizations.  Formal training programs are less common as they are often quite expensive to support.  If you do well in a sink-or-swim environment, then you may find yourself bored with an institutionalized approach.  If you prefer a more structured environment, focus on roles and organizations with stronger training components.

Finding your first job is exciting, frustrating and stressful.  These tips can help you navigate those emotions as you set your priorities, find a role that’s a good fit for you now and plan for greatness in the years to come.

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