Knowing what to do when you first graduate isn’t easy. There’s so much at stake: paying off student loans, choosing a geographic location you’ll enjoy, starting your career off on the right foot-how do you know what jobs to spend your time and energy applying for, when to accept an offer, and when to keep looking? In this article, we’ll give you a few pointers culled from the clarity of hindsight.
Don’t take a job doing something you don’t enjoy: Sometimes a paycheck is just a paycheck, and that’s fine. The problem with taking a job doing something you don’t enjoy is that it can have long-term consequences. Your resume will start to reflect this activity and future potential employers will want to pigeonhole you into that job, making it even more difficult for you to get the kind of job you really want.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s temporary: Many “temporary” jobs that you take just to make money start to become comfortable and not-so-temporary. You can get stuck in this rut for years-years that could have been spent pursuing what you really want to be doing. If you want to be a writer, don’t be a bookkeeper-or at least find a way to write regularly in your spare time.
Think about how this job will help you get your next job: No matter where you work and no matter how much you love or hate your job, you don’t be there forever. Even before you accept a job, you should be thinking about how it will help you get your next job. Will it give you things to put on your resume that will make you a strong candidate for a job you’ll enjoy in the future? Will it help you advance your career? Or will it get you stuck in a rut?
Think about taking a low-paying, idealistic job right out of college: If you’re interested in options like Teach for America or AmeriCorps, sign up for them now — don’t tell yourself you’ll do it later. Once you take a regular job that gives you plenty of disposable income, it’s hard to give up the comfort.
Money seduces: It’s a fact of life. At some point you will likely be offered employment that pays you more than what your dream job will pay. You will likely justify taking the job because the extra money will outweigh the compromise of putting off your dream job and you may assume it will even help you to pursue your dream job in your spare time. For all but the most strong-willed and energetic people, this is a false justification that will only serve to make you lose sight of what you really want to do with your life. Be very careful of the seduction of a higher paying job because once you accept it, your lifestyle will creep upward, it will be difficult to leave that cushy paycheck.
Take the highest paying job you can get after college: On the other hand, you might want to take the highest-paying job as you can get right away to get a jump start on saving for retirement, a house, travel, starting your own business, or any other goals that are important to you. When you’re fresh out of school, you’re less likely to be burned out on work, and you may be more able to put in the kind of energy and hours that are generally required to make a high income. But consider whether taking a job like this is likely to throw you into a rat race that you don’t want to be part of. Only you can answer this question honestly.
Don’t take a job with people who won’t respect you It’s one thing to be bored or even headed in the wrong direction, but being mistreated is a whole different ballgame. You’ll often be able to get an inkling of how a prospective employer will treat you before you accept a job — maybe it’s a vibe you got from your potential future boss in the interview, the incredibly low salary you were offered, or something the receptionist said as you were leaving. That nagging feeling in your gut that this isn’t the right job will usually be right — don’t think you have to stick around and find out. Working in an environment where you feel beaten down and disrespected will not only affect your job performance, it will affect your happiness, your health, and your relationships.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether to take a particular job, think about whether you’d want your best friend to accept it. Sometimes we have an easier time looking out for the best interests of our loved ones than of ourselves. Most importantly, don’t give up-it takes some people longer than others, but the right first job for you is out there.