I have had many jobs and I have hired many people. The one thing that has always struck me is how easy it is to lose track of what the real goal of the process, especially when starting out. Here is a few things that I wish somebody had told me before I got my first job.
I wish somebody had told me that I did not have to accept the first job offered to me. I was so sure that if I did not take it, no other job would ever come my way and I would be stuck in my parents’ basement with student debt until I was ready to be rolled into the retirement home. That meant that I did not stop to think whether the job was a good fit for me. I only thought about how to come across as the perfect candidate for the job.
I wish somebody had told me to be honest. The pressure is on when looking for a job, I know. The process can be grueling and long. But that is nothing compared to the misery of being in a job that is not for you. It took me time to realize that the most effective way to avoid that is by not taking the job in the first place. No one will ever see the job you did not take on your resume. But the job you had to leave within a short time, because you were not a good match, will show up on your record.
I wish somebody had told me to listen. Because the clues are all there. No employer has any interest in being deceitful during the interview. They might, however, speak in their own language. There are keywords, like “being flexible” and “fast-paced environment” that means that the job is not nine to five, but more like five to nine. There are flags like “self-starter” and “thinking on your feet” which means being thrown into the deep end with little to no supervision. And there are hints like “work-life balance” and “family friendly” which to me meant that I was on the hook outside normal business hours and on holidays because I did not have a family yet. That was perfectly okay with me, but it might not be with you.
I wish somebody had told me to negotiate during the interview. Somehow I thought there would be time for that later, but I have yet to experience a job where that is the case. Sure, there are things like raises and promotions, but the major stuff – base level salary, hours, vacation time, job content – that all goes down in the interview. After that it is very hard to change, because why would it? The terms have already been agreed upon by both parties, so what is there to discuss? It works in the employer’s favor, because they can always refer back to the interview and original contract, but so can you. In my first job out of college – as a management consultant – I had a rule of only working six days per week, or I would burn out too fast. If I had not stated that up front I would not have been able to adhere to that rule, because those were busy days and working all the time was the norm.
Most of all I wish somebody had told me to trust my gut feeling more than how it looks on paper. My best jobs are the ones where I have clicked with the people. Respected them and been excited to work with them. Where I felt like they were onto something that I wanted to be a part of. And where I sensed that I would learn something every single day. Those have been the jobs that I have loved.
After all it is not unlike dating. To find the one and only you have to be yourself and hope the other person is, too. You have to set your boundaries up front. You have to listen because all is said on the first date. And if this one does not feel right there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
Regitze Ladekarl is a writer, and a financial risk manager. For more from Regitze, see http://www.voluble.me/