To everyone finishing school and are about to venture into the chaotic world of adulthood, congratulations! It’s officially graduation season — a duly celebrated time for hard work, achievements, and a load of post-ceremonial confusion.
Now, it hasn’t been long since I’ve sported the black toga and the matching square cap, but I’ve always thought about how different my professional life would be if I had some real-world insights that may have helped when I was starting out.
Unlike some of my classmates, I didn’t have the ‘perfect’ first job. The unknowns of the workforce were overpowered by the pressure of immediate post-grad employment, so it didn’t take much to consider the first few offers that landed on my lap. I understood that I’d have to pay my dues and overcome a truckload of hurdles in that stage of my life, but I now know that I didn’t have to endure most of the things I did because I didn’t know better.
On that note, let me lay down five key points I believe you should consider before diving into your first job:
1. You’re interviewing companies as much as they’re interviewing you
So you’ve sent out about a thousand applications and finally landed a few interviews, well done! As nerve-wracking and stressful as this stage might be, try to remember that you’re not going to cross-examinations — you can ask employers sincere questions you might have about the work dynamic and culture of the company or just clarifications of the job you’re interviewing for. This will not just give you a better knowledge of the market, but will also aid in making decisions later on.
2. You are as reliable as you make yourself out to be
Confidence may not be everything but it sure is the right foot to start with. Based on experience, the greatest disservice I’ve done to my market value was my inability to highlight what I can do. That’s as bad as you can go in terms of underselling yourself because it’s all downhill from here — you’re underrepresented so you aren’t coming out as strong and consistent as you hope you’d be.
3. Be logical in decision-making — but take your instincts into consideration
Most of the things I regret came from the decisions I made opposite of what my gut feeling is telling me. I went in half-hearted into my first job even though all the red flags are right in my face, but I was young and I needed the work as soon as possible. Granted, most situations are like mine, but that doesn’t mean you cannot be cautious regarding what you’re getting yourself into. Check the environment, schedule, even the impressions the interviewers left you during the application process, etc.. Be rational but know that there are times when you can lean on your intuition.
4. Mentors make good leaders
I’ve had plenty of good bosses, but the best one would probably be the mentor I never thought I’d have. She took the time to tell me when and where to make things better, without ever belittling my abilities. It wasn’t hard to confide and ask her for comments because I know it would be met with professionalism. The mentor-boss isn’t “super” rare, you just need to be an active listener during interviews or socials (networking events).
5. Knowing your non-negotiables will protect yourself in the long run
Almost everything is negotiable — remember that. Just because you’re a fresh grad doesn’t mean you can’t ask for what you think is best for you. This is why negotiate. A lot of companies are open to tweaks on contracts if you come forward with your terms, but be sure that your standings are also as reasonable as they come. When you know what you cannot compromise, you know the only values you need to be grasping.
Dannise is both a writer and a digital marketer whose heart lies on film, TV, animal rescue, and musicals. She is currently on a mission to make something of herself in a multi-pronged career while rewatching Mamma Mia! one too many times.
Illustration by Madel Crudo