What To Look For In Your First Job
You’ve just finished your studies, and are becoming painfully aware of how unemployed you are.
Sure, there are options out there, but how do you know which one you should take?
This is a guide for avoiding mistakes, creating happiness, and saying yes to the best options.
Start with Why
Search engines jump straight to the “what” of job hunting. Let’s step back to the “why”.
Your first job is different to every other job you apply for. It doesn’t need to tick all the boxes, it just needs to get the ball rolling.
No more anxiety, no more relatives asking how the job hunt is going.
You won’t get your dream job straight away.
That’s good, because you’re probably going to be a terrible employee at first.
Your first real job is designed to do two things:
1. To give you the practice of having a job.
People never think about how fatiguing it is to suddenly start working full time, surrounded by new people and higher expectations. Even fun jobs are physically draining, and you’re about to spend the next 9 months adjusting your weekly routine to fit everything in.
2. To teach you about yourself.
You don’t yet know what you like – offices, cultures, work styles, hours. You’ll be surprised by what energises (and frustrates) you. Hell, you might not be in the right industry. This first role is designed to highlight what you want in your next job.
Things that don’t matter
There are too many factors to weigh up, so let’s take some off the table:
You don’t need that much money. You don’t. Besides, 40 hours multiplied by anything is a big number.
Oh, and what your dumb mates make at their job – completely irrelevant.
I admit, I was totally sucked in by the “Suits on Collins St” thing. It gets old pretty quickly. So does any environment where your you feel judged by your peers. If you have to wear a tie or suit, so be it. It shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for you either way.
People with their ego in their titles are generally awful. Don’t start being picky about your title. For the next few years, you may as well be Assistant Junior Nobody, because it’s meaningless.
Similar to dress code, it feels so cool for those first six weeks, but the novelty wears off. Just make sure the opportunity is worth the travel, because in a few months when you’re exhausted, it will feel like a lifetime.
With those distractions out of the way, let’s get to the real issues:
This job is essentially your apprenticeship. That means, do whatever you can to learn from a great master. You want to work with/for people you admire, people you want to emulate.
If you work for someone awful, you’ll either grow to hate them – or you’ll become them.
Working in a good culture is so much fun. The nights where people stay back late to finish off a big project as a team are the best.
Try and work somewhere where people go for drinks after work, and actually like each other. A positive environment makes the hard days bearable, and the good days delightful.
Your apprenticeship is about learning.
Learn the job, learn about people, learn about the industry, learn about yourself.
By choosing somewhere that gives you lots of experience, you can accelerate your career progress.
Don’t mistake time for experience. Some big firms offer a 3-year placement that’s actually the same one year of experience, three times over.
A good first job should make you tired. If it doesn’t, you’re probably not learning enough.
The problem is, fatigue and depression look really similar at first.
No experience is worth sacrificing your mental health. No amount of money or fancy title on your CV is worth feeling terrible on Sunday night, dreading the coming week. Life is too short.
Careers are different for our generation. Our grandparents traditionally had an average of 3 careers in a lifetime, we’re on track for an average of 11.
Embrace it. You’re not getting long service leave anywhere, your career will be a big book made up of short chapters.
My first job
I learned this the hard way.
When I was 19, I decided to do an Industry Based Learning placement – a year of full time work.
The first job I saw advertised was with ANZ, so I decided to apply. I got through all five rounds of interviews, including the ridiculously intense assessment day (a story for another time).
Everyone told me to take the job, because it would look amazing on my resume. So I did.
Full time work is exhausting, a big adjustment from my old lifestyle of uni lectures and the night shift at IGA.
My role was to run process improvement projects in their Collections and Credit Assessment teams – six months in each division.
I was good at the job, and even won an award. The problem was, I was really unhappy.
The role taught me incredible amount, not just about finance, but about people and culture.
I’ve walked through open plan offices with 300 people sitting in complete silence.
I’ve interviewed our neighbouring teams about the details of their work, with the secret task of trying to make them all redundant.
I’ve been to a Christmas party, where the deputy CEO presented awards to the nine top achievers in the division – and none of them showed up.
I had a notebook titled “Things I will never do”, full of all the times I’d seen the senior leaders demean and disempower their team.
Horrible days, but lessons that will stick with me for a long time.
I am grateful for the role – it pushed me to switch my co-major to entrepreneurship. That course introduced me to the idea of a social enterprise, the business model canvas, and eventually, Bessi Graham and Paul Steele, who told me about their new enterprise idea called “The Difference Incubator”
The money, the title, the Collins St address – meaningless.
What I learned about business, ethics, hard work, and culture – priceless.
You have two challenges ahead of you: Surround yourself with good people, and become a good person to have on a team.
If you’re useful, upbeat, creative and hardworking, you won’t struggle to find a job.