This is the time of year that university students start looking for their first “real” job. After conversations with some younger friends, I thought I would put together some thoughts about how entry-level candidates should approach their first job as they apply to a number of companies and evaluate offers.
Optimize for growth vs. pay
Many entry-level students graduate with large amounts of debt care about being well-compensated in their first role, and rightfully so. That said – I strongly believe you need to consider your opportunities for both individual growth and compensation in every role you take in your career, especially your first job.
This is not to say you should work for free – we compensate our entry-level staff members well – but that you should balance pay with growth opportunities.
You optimize for growth by selecting roles that will introduce you different aspects to a industries operations.
For example: an entry-level customer success employee at a software company that interacts with the product team on a weekly basis will learn more than a similar role that just answers support queries 24/7.
There are three factors to consider when optimizing for growth:
- Company trajectory
- Role trajectory
- Your manager
Factors to consider when evaluating a company’s trajectory:
- Is the company growing?
- What are their market opportunities?
- What is their five-year plan?
Positive answers to any of these questions will indicate that they are likely to hire more people over the next year or two, thereby increasing your chances of getting quickly promoted, as it is way easier to promote internally than externally.
Does your potential employer expect you to be promoted quickly or do they expect you to do the same thing for 2-3 years. Whenever a candidate asks us what we expect them to be doing for our company in two years the answers is always emphatically “certainly not this.”
We expect our employees to grow quickly and take on more responsibilities with increased compensation.
To understand the role trajectory do not hesitate to ask the company that you are interviewing at the following questions:
- What skill sets do you see me acquiring in the next six months? The next two years?
- What role would be the natural progression next for employees hired in this role?
This will give you an understanding of if your employer expects your responsibilities to grow quickly, or if they see this role as simply an entry-level taskmaster.
This is the most important thing to consider when interviewing anywhere for your first job. Who you work with on a day-to-day basis will have the largest impact on how much you learn and how quickly you grow.
I will never forget my first real boss. His name was Greg and he was a fairly senior executive in in the Federal Government. I would work on projects with him and he would sometimes take me with him to meet with his boss. His boss was the CFO of the entire the entire department – a multi-billion dollar organization. At first I thought this was normal and then I quickly realized how unprecedented it was for a summer student to be interacting with people at this level.
When Greg put me in those positions he was teaching me and showing me how organizations worked at the most senior level. This presented me with a unique opportunity to learn and observe leadership styles and no doubt gave me the confidence to later start my own company and manage a sales cycle with senior executives.
This is also probably the hardest of the three to evaluate. So here are some tips.
Research their career
Look up their LinkedIn. Are they progressing quickly in their career in seniority and responsibility or are they relatively stagnant? You are not likely to learn much from a manager that has been the same type of manager for a decade.
What companies have they worked at? Are they exciting interesting companies that are well liked, or companies with poor reputations? (Use Glassdoor to research companies.
Talk to people that work there
Do you know any former employees that can speak to their culture? Use LinkedIn and search your contacts by company to find mutual contacts you may know. Do not hesitate to ask them to speak to someone in your role at the company for a quick phone interview if they put together an offer.
Ask for references
If you are joining a early stage software company like mine, ask for references. Listen, we understand the risk associated with joining our company. It will show well if you ask for more information, do not hesitate to ask to talk to an investor about the state of the company.
Understand that you have an asset (your skill set!) to sell to a company. Do not undervalue yourself during the hiring process and approach understanding that you have your whole career ahead of you, and that you need to make the right decisions to get your career off to a hot start.
This is an exciting time as you start your career. Enjoy it and make the most of opportunities that you have in front of you while keeping your eye on the long-game as you are starting what is sure to be a long and exciting career.
If you are interested in working in technology we are hiring interns for May 2018. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with what you are interested in working on and we will figure out if we have room for you.