If you are searching high and low for your first “grown-up” job post-grad, I am glad you stopped by. In this post, I am going to go over some important topics that don’t immediately come to mind the first time you are searching for full-time employment.
This new adventure you are on is going to be a bit bumpy. College is a little bubble, it has everything you need, all your friends are there, if you don’t know something or need help there are myriad of people around to help you figure it out. Once the bubble has popped the world starts to look a little different.
I honestly wish someone had told me how hard post-grad life is. Or that just because you picked your career doesn’t mean you are going to enjoy it. Yes, I know these sound like things I “should have known” but bear with me here for a bit longer. Growing up I was under the impression that once I got a degree in my desired field life would go on to a happy cadence of work, family, and friends. I had no idea what real-world expenses added up to or how difficult it is to work 40 hours a week. Here are a few items I wish I would have better understood about the workforce, and compensation.
You always hear people say the comment “if you pick a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, I think that is false advertising. Even if you love your career work is work. There are always going to be days where you aren’t motivated or don’t like the project you are working on and that’s okay. There is something just as important as the subject of your work, and that is the people and work environment.
When you are searching for that first job remember that your work environment is directly linked to not only your happiness in life (not just work) but to job performance. A study conducted by the US found that when employees are given options as to where and what they work on, they are more creative and higher-performing. This depends on the companies core values and the management style of supervisors.
It also showed that ergonomics and office design have a large impact on how well employees work, offices that balance focus and collaboration have higher achieving employees. This means that while open offices allow for lots of collaboration, they don’t allow for much noise dampening needed during the focus portions of the workday.
Companies that provide amenities think free coffee and snacks, private meeting places and more than one space to work are better liked by their employees. This mostly comes down to choices, in a place you are going to spend 40 hours, at a minimum, a week more choices are usually better
Just like different countries, all companies have their own culture, and it is another factor that plays into the work environment. This is the vibe of the company. Are they uptight? Formal? Casual? What is the dress code? How do people work together and speak to each other? Is there an underlying business plan or structure to how the company is run? What are the working hours and do they offer flex time? All these questions when honestly answered will help you make the decision if a company is a right place for you.
Example: You are a talkative person, you like to know what’s going on in people’s lives and like sharing what is going on in yours. You are a bit outspoken, laid back and quite often sarcastic. The company you are applying to is strict, they have a very corporate structure. Following the rules is imperative to being successful. You’ll be required to wear dress pants and a tie every day, which makes you groan internally. Working here might be an option for you, but it doesn’t jive with your personality and you can feel it during the interview. You can’t be yourself in this environment and be taken seriously.
There is an element of “growing up” that you’re going to have to do to work anywhere. My point is to make sure you are matching the company culture to your own personality. I know a few people that are really intelligent, but they are in the wrong environment. They should be working in more of a laid-back job, and because they don’t fit the “company mold” they aren’t taken seriously. Now sure, you could suppress all your true feelings and thoughts, but eventually, you will come to resent it.
Being able to be YOU at work is hard to do unless you are in the right place. Most hiring managers want you to be in the right environment for your personality. This is where interview questions about how you communicate and deal with conflict resolution come in. Some companies even have you take personality tests and communication assessments to make sure you are the type of person that meshes with their culture.
It is also important to note the makeup of the employees. What are the age ranges of the employees in the area you will be working? This can help you determine if it is a competitive or nurturing environment. If there are a lot of young and middle-aged people, then there might be more competition for future development. In my first job, there were a lot of people about 5 years away from retirement and it was great! They were the type of people that WANTED to teach you and wanted you to learn.
Pay and Benefits – Take home pay vs salary
Do your research. Figure out the min and max salaries for your job, I just used payscale and got some great results, plus you don’t have to sign up your email to get the information. The bottom line here is to know what to expect and to know what upper end you can negotiate with. Your starting salary is REALLY important, this is something I wish I could go back and fix. While you will get yearly increases (usually based on performance), those increases are constrained by your base pay.
Example: Say your getting paid 50,000 / year, and your raise is 3%, you move up to 51,500. That is roughly $57 more / bi-weekly pay, before taxes, insurance, and 401k contributions.
To get a better idea what your take-home pay will actually be, check out this calculator. If you aren’t sure what to put, use these values:
- Pay frequency is normally bi-weekly.
- Allowances, if you have no dependents and are single these are all 1.
- Pre-Tax deductions, you will be provided health care but you normally are responsible for a monthly premium. If you are single I would use moderate values such as $50 for medical, $3 for eye insurance, $5 for dental insurance. If you are married or have a dependent double these values.
- 401k – you want to be around 10%, investing in your future now is extremely important.
This will give you a good idea of how far your money will take you after taxes and insurance coverage. There is a little bit of a shock factor when you realize yes, you are “making” $50,000 a year but only seeing $37,000 – and roughly $5000 of that is going right into your 401k. If you are like me, on this take-home pay you still have to afford to live and start paying back those student loans. I told you it was going to be a little bumpy!
Benefits are viewed as part of your compensation as well. Making sure you have a firm understanding of those benefits before you sign on the dotted line is important for your physical health and future financial health. Anytime you are offered a job, you will likely also be given a benefits package. Companies are required by law to provide full-time and salary employees with health care or pay a tax penalty. The only time you would not be offered benefits is if the company has less than 50 employees, it is a part-time job or a contracting job.
In addition to health care, most companies also offer gain sharing, profit sharing or 401k match. They all have different pros and cons, along with a period you must be employed before you are fully vested. These options help you save for retirement because your company is putting additional money into your 401k, the amount depends on the type of plan and how long you’ve been with the company. Once you have figured out your salary, check out this 401k calculator to see how starting early really is to your benefit.
Side Note: Companies in the US are not required to give paid vacation, so make sure you know what the vacation policies are. Check out this page to see what the norms are in other countries. Also “sick days” are not offered everywhere, some places will make you use vacation days and others will allow you to make up the time, even as a salaried employee. FUN.
These are points to keep in mind when job searching. It is unlikely that a company is going to check every single box and no company is perfect. The items above directly compare to job satisfaction, and when you are happy somewhere you are going to perform better! Here are some questions to ask and red-flags to look out for on your next interview. These questions are usually asked during the middle and end of the interview after you’ve talked about the actual work and your qualifications. Make sure to save any money related questions to the 2nd or 3rd interview unless offered beforehand.
- Mentions alluding to difficult personalities – I would follow up and ask for more detail.
- The interviewer talks down to another person in the room, you included.
- The interviewer talks badly about other coworkers.
- The interviewer talks badly about the benefits or compensation.
Questions to ask
- What is the culture like here?
- What kind of environment do you create for your employees?
- Do employees enjoy working together?
- Would I have a mentor?
- To hiring manager – What is your management style?
- How do you track performance and give reviews?
- Where would I be working the majority of the time and what is the office environment like?
- What is your favorite and least favorite thing about working here?
Usually, you will be able to feel if an interview is going well when you get that feeling go for it! Remember to be yourself while also selling your talents.
One thing I always ask is if there are any other women in the engineering department if there aren’t I ask if there are any women in leadership roles. If you have any deal breakers use your best judgment or shoot me an email to have your question answered on Q&A Tuesday!
Want more? Check out the last Intern Series post, it goes over communication and has valuable information for entry-level employees.