When I accepted my first job out of college, a software development position in the technology department of a large company in the heart of Boston’s financial district, I was ecstatic to start my career and my life in the “real world”. But after a few months of working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, I learned that just like any relationship, the honeymoon phase quickly comes and goes.
Many students graduating from college that decide between jobs might make their decision based on a set of quantitative measures — salary, bonuses, Glassdoor rankings, and benefits. Of course, many people also factor in the qualitative as well — location, prestige, and how well the job aligns with what they studied in college or what they want to do in the future. Although internships and part-time jobs might partially prepare a student to feel more confident in their decision, there’s a whole set of criteria that many people might neglect when choosing where to work for their first job.
Today, nearly two years after the start of my first full-time job and three months into my new one, I want to reflect and share some of my thoughts on why choosing the right first job out of college matters, but not for the reasons most people think it does.
The people you encounter at your first job are important. Especially if you want to stay in the industry you start in, you need to find people who are motivated and dedicated to honing their craft so that you can learn from them.
Meeting others in your industry will most likely not dictate your career path, but forging strong connections and networking with the right people can have a profound impact on your career growth and the rate at which you learn new things.
Seek out jobs that will give you the ability to meet other people — either through informal meetings in office spaces or through formal mentorship programs that allow you to connect more closely with someone 1-on-1.
Regardless of the type of company you’ll be joining — whether it be a small startup or a well-established corporate company that’s been around for decades — one of the most important skills you can develop is the ability to learn. In addition, perhaps more important is the ability to unlearn and relearn.
If you’re working for a company that stubbornly refuses to adapt to modern practices or swears by archaic processes, you slowly start to adopt that same mindset when working at future companies.
“Comfort is the enemy of progress.” - P.T Barnum
Find a forward-looking company that will push you to grow. Be wary of the companies that falsely proclaim that they are progressive and use the latest technologies to keep up with the competition. You’ll be able to tell whether they’re telling the truth by checking Glassdoor, interviewing with them or when reaching out to existing employees who have been with the company for a long time.
At any company, you’ll be expected to complete certain responsibilities. Some companies will have very specific expectations for your position — deliverables that help them meet their quarterly or annual goals. However, some companies know that a huge part of talent retention is letting their employees develop new skills and work in areas they’re interested in.
Employees can develop their skills going to conferences, gaining new knowledge through on-the-job training, cross-pollinating with people in other departments, and having the opportunity to practice those skills in an actual project at work.
At my current company, 3Play Media, every other Friday is reserved for a skill-building team exercise, in which I get the opportunity to work with software developers and research engineers on an exciting side project, allowing me to learn new technical skills. This time for self-exploration helps me keep up with new tools and technologies, and also allows me the opportunity to reset myself mentally and take a break from the rest of the week.
In order to grow your technical skills, look for a company that supports your growth, not only at work but also outside of work as well. Internal and external training, tuition reimbursement programs, and support for personal growth (and rest) is all part of your success as a constant learner. In addition, companies that have formal mentorship programs will facilitate your transition into the workforce and pair you with someone who can tell you about the culture, people, and ways to succeed at your new company.
Millennials (and a small, but growing subset of Gen-Zers) are an integral part of the workforce, and many of us, compared to our parents’ generation and previous generations, prefer to work in more human-centric workplaces.
According to a study by Great Places to Work in 2018, Millennials are 22 times more likely to stay with a company if they trust in the company and 59 times more likely to endorse their company to friends and family if they think it’s a good place to work. In addition, after money, security, and time off, Millennials listed “culture and people” as the most important criterion for selecting a job.
For me, that meant leaving my old company for one that didn’t have as much of a bureaucratic, top-heavy culture. The focus now is working alongside others to deliver high-quality work. Ego, politics, and drama never play into the equation.
If you work for a company with a toxic culture during your first few years in the workforce, you’re setting yourself up for failure. A famous quotation by motivational speaker Jim Rohn says that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. As a full-time job will occupy so much of your time, by surrounding yourself with people who don’t care, people who don’t seek to learn, and people who are defensive in their interactions, you slowly become demotivated. Even worse, when you leave your job and apply to others, you might hold onto remnants of the toxicity and be adversarial in your interactions with the people who are looking to hire you.
At the end of the day, the three factors that heavily influence your success at a company are your work ethic, mindset, and interactions with others. Surrounding yourself with motivated, intelligent individuals will teach you more, and at a quicker rate. This is one of the hardest things to gauge when looking for a new job, but check Glassdoor, talk to previous employees, and do your research to make sure you’re not going to be working for a company that you regret.
Your first few years in the workforce are the most formative years of the rest of your career, engraining in you certain habits that can stay with you for the rest of the time you spend working. If you choose to surround yourself with people who are motivated purely by material wealth or status, you might find yourself in the same boat several decades later.
Start thinking about this early, rather than thinking “this can wait until I’m wealthier”, and pushing this off until later in your life. I sometimes ask myself, “What would I be doing or want to do if I had enough time and wealth to be comfortable?” The answer always comes back to making a positive difference in the lives of others.
For me, I’m fortunate to find a company that allows me to make a difference in the lives of people each and every day. As a designer at 3Play Media, I shape the lives of those who have physical and cognitive disabilities, and doing so has completely changed the way I think about my craft and my profession. Instead of working purely for the sake of wealth, I also work so that I can positively impact others and influence change.
For many students graduating high school or college, their first job out of college is their springboard into the real world. It’s a daunting experience, filled with new people, routines, and experiences. However, since accepting my first job out of college, I’ve also learned that nothing is fixed in stone; you have the ability to switch jobs and change the situation you’re in if you feel stuck.
On average, people spend 90,000 hours over the course of their life at work. Why not make the best of that time and choose a job that you want to be at that will treat you well?