The professional career track is a little different than other jobs you may have had in the past. Your first professional job is probably one in your field of study, requires a little more experience than other opportunities you may have had, and is the jumping-off point that will guide you through the rest of your professional experiences. When maneuvering your way through your first professional job, it’s important to understand the various factors to be wary of during the pre-employment process.
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1. Finding a Company With the Right Benefits
When you’re choosing the right company, there are many factors to consider. The nuts and bolts of your career choices should include some insight into the benefits they will be offering you. Employers aren’t required to offer many benefits, but in order to remain competitive with companies looking to hire similar applicants, they offer benefits packages designed to keep employees happy. Some benefits to ask about include:
- Health insurance;
- Retirement pension or 401(k);
- Life insurance;
- Paid time off, holiday, and sick leave;
- Parental leave.
Benefits might not be the biggest factors in finding the right company for your first professional career, but they should be one of the factors to consider. Retirement benefits, especially, are a perk that can really pay off the longer you save — particularly if your employer offers a match.
Some company benefits coincide with their culture and what they offer is a lot more modern. Meal options, paid volunteer days, student loan reimbursement, or paid training days are all additional benefits that some companies choose to offer. Asking about them may be the deciding factor between companies if you’re trying to find the right employment fit for you.
Benefits are non-wage compensation. These can carry tax-related perks, and do a lot for your financial standing without necessarily showing up in your salary. Having employer health insurance or working somewhere that offers child care can mean more for your finances than extra money in your paycheck.
2. Fitting into Company Culture
Company culture is your company’s personality and, for many newbies to the professional job scene, it’s a big factor in deciding where to work. It’s not all about how many figures you’re earning, it’s also about being happy with your career, and that’s where company culture comes in.
Adaptability is key in many situations, but it’s important to note the aspects of the company culture that you aren’t willing to compromise on. Take a look at the company’s reputation among employees as well as clients. Ask about how they view professionalism, dress code preferences, employee engagement, and their place in their community. Familiarize yourself with some company models and decide what’s your ideal situation, what would be your worst situation, and what you’d be willing to work around.
Culture can mean a balance between work and life, a sense of purpose, and recognition at work. Many new, younger companies may pay well but have a poor culture. Some employers may be the right culture fit but don’t carry the ideal paycheck.
Over time, these things could even out, but it is important to know when to make the switch; the longer you wait, the more likely you are to have debts or other financial obligations that won’t tolerate any disruption to your income. Changing jobs or being unemployed can be a hard hit on your financial health and credit score, and may potentially push you into more debt, so timing is everything when finding your ideal culture/salary balance.
3. How Does the Company Set You Up for Success?
Being a new employee involves a bit of time at the bottom of the totem pole at your workplace. However, it’s not such a bad thing. Maybe you have to go grab coffee for everyone, or you get saddled with the least exciting projects, or you don’t get invited for lunch outings — it’s all a part of being a young, new employee in a new setting.
Ensure that you are being onboarded and trained in an efficient manner that sets you up to be successful in the company. For some, it can be difficult to see the difference between paying your dues and being underutilized. Throughout your career, you should always feel like you’re contributing and growing. If you ever feel like you’re being treated poorly or unfairly, it’s time to say goodbye to this employer.
There’s not a specific rule since every situation is different, but communicating your needs and expectations with your employer is key in making sure that they are not taking you for granted.
An unfulfilling career can lead to burnout and a solid paycheck may not be worth it if you don’t feel valued or engaged. Waiting too long to correct this imbalance can end up hurting your career, driving you to burn bridges, and could ultimately hurt your financial standing with a bout of unemployment.
Going into debt for a degree is a choice you make with the understanding that your future career will help pay the debt that degree created. If you’re undervalued or underpaid by your degree standards, you’re not only less happy, but your finances take a hit too. Delinquent loans cause issues with credit, qualifying for other loans later, or even your ability to get hired by another company.
4. What Is the Room for Growth?
When you accept a job, unless you plan on staying there forever, you are interested in vertical growth. There are particular jobs that have lots of room for growth, and others that do not. Some only take a job in the first place because it is a great way to put your foot in the door.
Check with employers to see where there is room for growth. Avoid asking a yes or no growth question such as, “Is there any room for growth?” and ask for elaboration. You can ask about what the traditional route for people in your role is as well. If the job does not offer any room for growth, you may want to reconsider your options.
5. Sticking with Your Career Goals
Before entering the workforce, write down your goals. Write down your dream company, your dream position, your dream accomplishments, and your dream work culture. It’s important not to lose sight of those things as you enter the professional workforce.
Goals may change as you dive into your field and meet the realities of each company, position, and workflow, but keeping sight of your initial aspirations will help you stay on track. Of course, you won’t walk into any professional environment and right into the corner office signing everyone’s paychecks, but there are steps to get there.
Your employer will ask about your goals and how those goals fit this company; think about that question and how you and your company can help each other.
The right company will recognize that you have personal, financial, and professional goals. You know you’re in a good spot when you get the opportunity and support to pursue all three. This may be as simple as employer-match 401(k) contributions, or it might be daycare to help you save money on childcare expenses.
Maneuvering through your first professional career can be intimidating, but it’s a feeling every professional has had while entering a workforce they are passionate about. You may be the youngest, the newest, or the least experienced, but everyone you’re working around has been that at one point in their career as well.
When you are searching for a job you love, it’s important to understand what you want for your professional career. If the job doesn’t align with what you want to do long term, you may not be heading the route you truly want. No matter what you do, work ethic goes a long way, so staying focused and driven will help steer you in the right direction no matter where your professional career track takes you.
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