If I may, I'd like to divulge tidbits about my first job experience. As a fresh engineering graduate, I conceived my options to be limited, so the minute I bagged a campus placement - a software job, I couldn’t thank my stars or wait to celebrate. I was about to start earning, and that is practically all that mattered at the time.
It took me a good four months since placement to realize that if I indeed took up that job, I was in it for the long run. Being on the payroll, doing something that I disliked, suddenly seemed harrowing.
What followed was an interesting experiment of figuring out what I wanted, if not an IT job or another degree. I will tell you this – there is nothing like this uncertainty, especially after a technical degree, for your social approval to take hit. But I learned that you can't give in because only you know what is right for you. While my own thought process was anything but structured - except the clarity on what not to pursue, I realized that there are a few questions you must address before signing up for that campus placement.
Never be under the illusion that as fresh graduates you don't have the power to choose. You always do! So use it to ask the right questions – of the employers as well as of themselves. A few years of the job at hand for relevant, marketable work experience before an MBA or does the job excites you? Does the organization provide a clear forward-looking path, say five years down the line, for new employees? How are employees appraised? What does it take to get your hands on more responsibilities?
The first job is a stepping-stone – nothing more and definitely nothing less. Asking the right questions will give you an idea to whether or not your career aspirations are aligned with what the organization is about to offer you. Some might dismiss this as entitlement but it is just a process of making informed choices.
A job hunt during my stint with the IT company, a Fortune 500-tech company for that matter, is when I realised how brand names kick-start your career. Suddenly, I was marketable with no relevant degree in the profession I had chosen. It is not an ideal world, so brand names matter.
Even if it is not a recognizable brand, your work and profile can do wonders to your resume. Ask yourself whether your first job will make you more marketable than you are fresh out of college. If the answer is yes, you are making the right choice.
A good first job makes you well rounded. It makes you marketable and imparts skills outside of your comfort zone. If your technical skills are top notch, it will teach you a thing or two about people management and communication. Mine did. If the job lets you do different kinds of projects instead of slotting you into a specific discipline or practice for life, it will go a long way in helping you decide your strengths and interests.
Ask your interviewers how teams are structured and how the organization ensures inter-disciplinary collaboration. Ask who your reporting manager will be and if you so wish, how you can find opportunities to work with other leaders, departments and teams.
The size of the company matters too. Smaller organizations and startups often work on the premise of “all hands on deck”, whereas large organizations have rigid structures and minimal collaboration. I have noticed that in startups and smaller organizations, marketing teams get the opportunity to manage projects, client servicing teams get to do creative ideation and quality control, and almost everyone gets to do HR by identifying training needs and organizing internal communication and so on. If you are undecided on the specific role you want to grow in, these organizations can help you try your hands on many different things before you make a decision.
One advantage that younger millennials have over my generation is the accessibility to information. C-suite and mid to senior level employees tweet like never before. Their interviews and opinions are available on YouTube, blogs and online magazines, and their resumes and professional equity are out there on LinkedIn for everyone to peruse. Find out if the organization has inspiring professionals you would want to learn from and how often the organization lets you do this through collaboration, mentorship, or one-on-one conversations.
In addition to having the opportunity to work with specific people, ask your potential employer how they ensure continuous learning. There are many different ways to deliver it – classroom trainings, external trainers, mentors, exposure to different forms of work, sponsored external courses and so on. In almost all organizations I have been in, one of the most crucial areas of improvement that junior employees point out is the lack of training opportunities. I strongly recommend finding out how the organization delivers these trainings so your expectations are aligned and you are certain of continuous learning before you commit to the job.
Your first job should be a thrilling experience, one that challenges your brain after a lifetime of rote, exclusive only to our special brand of education system. You are about see the concepts of “learning on the job” and “practical knowledge” come to life. Make wise choices from the get go and don’t settle if you want a career you can be proud of, one that is a result of proactive, empowering and conscious decision making.
If you are a fresh graduate about to join the big, bad world of jobs, here are a few more reads for you –