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6 Things To Consider When Looking For Your First REAL Job

Getting your first job out of college is scary stuff. I’m going to be blunt with you guys, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies for me. I graduated with a degree in Film and Digital Media Production, and graduating with a more creative degree made it that much more difficult.

I knew that I wanted a career in Social Media, but didn’t know where to start. Graduation was approaching quickly and I was ready to settle for just about anything to pay the rent. I ended up graduating without a real job.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you guys… things got really dark those next few months. I took a job waitressing tables and was feeling so down for that entire summer. I was beginning to feel like giving up.

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I was able to land a small Digital Marketing internship with a company here in Chicago. The pay was minimum wage and I only worked a few hours a week, but it was at least a better resume booster than waiting tables.

My parents had to help me out a bit and I felt totally ashamed. Why did I waste so much time and money on school when I couldn’t even get a job?

It was the fall after graduating college that I started my first blog with my partner, Sean. It’s called Our Countertop, and it’s still going strong. I did all of the design, photography, and social media marketing for it. After it really took off, I put it on my resume and FINALLY companies were taking interest in me and my talents.

Within a few weeks of adding our blog to my resume, I landed my first job as a social media manager at a restaurant chain here in Chicago. I love my job. It’s exactly what I wanted to do. But I’ve seen friends and family start their first job and hate it.

I want to give you all a few tips you should consider before taking your first job. Some of these are questions you can ask the person who is interviewing you, and some of these you can find answers to online. Others… I would advise to just trust your gut. Ask yourself: Does this company align with my values? Here are six things I would take into consideration before accepting a position.

1. Does this job pay salary or hourly?

No one ever wants to talk about money. It makes people super uncomfortable. I’m not one of those people.

A lot of times, people don’t really care if it’s hourly or salary. If it all comes out to $45,000 a year, who cares, right?


Often, in entry level positions, companies will take advantage of your cheap labor. Think weekend events, over time, etc. You can end up putting in 60-70 hours a week and see the same sized paycheck as you did last pay period when you worked a 40 hour work week.

My Advice:

Be up front with your interviewer. Ask about weekends, if you’ll be working normal business hours, etc.

2. Are the hours flexible?

This is another question people don’t think to ask when looking for a 9-5 job. But it’s an important question to ask.

Some companies are sticklers about sticking to the 9-5 schedule. If you need to go to a dentist appointment, take your dog to the vet before they close, or see a doctor, then you’re forced to take a half day and use vacation hours.

But these days, other companies are taking more liberal approaches. There are positions where you can work 8-4 or 7-3 on days when you have something important going on. This might not seem like a huge deal… but it’s really hard to schedule appointments when you work Monday-Friday 9-5.

My Advice: Ask them about the exact hours you’ll be working. 9-5? 9-6? Usually, when answering this question, you’ll get a feel for the flexibility of your work week.

3. What is the company culture like?

Company culture is such a buzzword these days. Recruiters and job posters throw it around, but don’t really know what it means.

I can tell you what company culture doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean a Foosball table in the break room.

To me, and I think to a lot of other young professionals, company culture means caring for your employees. Caring about their time off. Caring about their collaboration and team health. Caring about office bonding and office health.

There’s numerous ways a company can showcase this. It can be through monthly lunches, networking events, sending their teams to conferences, buying the office lunch every once in a while, team bonding exercises, etc.

If you work in an office that doesn’t care about their employee’s happiness, you’ll know it. Trust me.

My Advice: In your interview, ask what other people in the company like to do for fun. If they know the answer, this shows that your future boss cares enough to ask what their team is doing outside of work. This won’t answer all of your questions, but it’s at least a start and it doesn’t come off as “Is this office any fun to work at?

4. You can negotiate your contract

This may seem like a no brainer for some, but don’t be afraid to try and negotiate! Was the salary range 40-50k and they offered you a flat 40k? Try to negotiate.

My Advice: Tell them you were looking for more in the 45k range. Worst case scenario, they say they can’t afford to give you that much. But they won’t retract your offer.

5. What is the turnover rate at this company?

You don’t want to work somewhere where people are coming and going constantly. This says something about the workplace… and that is that it’s probably not a great place to work at. It’s hard to figure this out, but there’s a few ways.

My Advice: During your interview, ask if this is a new position, or if someone held the position before. Then, ask why they left. Or at the very least, ask how long they held their position.

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6. What opportunities are there for growth, both professionally and within the company?

This is a question that you will find on every interview advice, so you’re probably thinking that this is a cliché. Or just a question that sounds good to ask. Yes, both of those are true, but you should take the answer very seriously.

There’s two parts to this.

Is this company going to invest in your professional development? For example, will this company pay for conferences to expand your knowledge? Courses? Etc.

And part two:

There’s nothing worse than being in a position, and realizing after a year or two that there is no room for a promotion or growth. You’re going to be considered an “entry level” for a long time. You’ll be receiving a small percentage raise each year and you’ll never make the salary that you hoped for.

My advice: Ask about growth potential and REALLY listen to the answer.

Whew! That was a long post. But at the very least, I hope that it was helpful. I would advise that you use the internet to your advantage while trying to find the answers to these questions. Look on Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. See what current and past employees have to say about their experience.

Is there anything else you wish you would have known before you entered the work force? Let me know in the comments below!

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