CommonSense Blog

For those about to Graduate… What to Look for in your First Job

By Paul Dyer | Aug 12, 2013

It’s that time again when summer interns return to college for their last year of fully subsidized freedom. For most, they will begin the school year on top of the world – ready and excited to have the most flexible schedules, live in the coolest apartments, work on the projects that really interest them, and put a flag in the mountain of their adult social lives. However, somewhere in the second half of the year, the harsh realities of an exceedingly challenging job market will set in.

If you believe the headlines, the market will “force” some to defer that challenge through continuing education or any variety of other avoidance tactics. Others will gratefully take any job that gets them started working, even if it’s not what excites them… You can’t win the game if you’re sitting on the sidelines…

Yet, despite all the gloom and doom we’ve heard about today’s job market, companies are hiring. In fact, if you ask most hiring managers, finding and recruiting top talent is one of their biggest challenges. That’s certainly the case at W2O Group, where 30% year over year growth has become the norm, and bright young people are eagerly sought after.

This month we parted ways (either temporarily or permanently) with 30 interns who are becoming college seniors. Many of them were aggressive, driven, capable young people, who sought out 1-on-1 conversations with top execs in our firm as part of their learning experience.

As someone who was fortunate to receive early mentorship in my career, I believe strongly in sharing “down” the things that can help ambitious and capable young people get ahead.

This blog post is intended for the 1%.  The most driven, the most capable.  The ones who are going to succeed in the working world, no matter what…  The ones who will have multiple job offers when they graduate.

Here are five things I encourage you to focus on when selecting the right job when you graduate:

#1 – Where will you learn the most?
This should be the most important factor in your decision.  As a reform(ing) know-it-all, I can attest that people who know-it-all never learn anything… And you still have a lot to learn.  Put yourself in the position where you will learn the most, the quickest. This will not happen in training programs or books.  Now is when learning “on the job” becomes real.  Look for a job where you can have ownership of projects, flexibility to learn from your mistakes, breadth and diversity in what you work on, as well as accountability.  You should be uncomfortable.  You should fail sometimes.  If you don’t feel like a disappointment once in a while, you’re probably not pushing yourself enough.

 

#2 – Where will you build your network?
A lot of young people make the mistake of following big brand names into small silo’s of opportunity.  Early in your career it’s particularly important to build a wide network.  It helps you refine what you really want from your own career and also sets you up for fast growth several years down the road.  This means you need a job where you meet and work with people outside of your own company.  Many young people start their career inside a large company only to later discover their network is limited to just one company.  Look for a job where you work with a wide variety of companies – sales, consulting, and agency jobs are great for this.

 

#3 – Where will you become a leader?
One of my favorite definitions of leadership is that, “leadership is about managing energy… first in yourself and then in those around you.”  It comes from an MBA-school book called Level Three Leadership.  If it’s important that you learn skills on the job, it’s essential that you learn leadership from people who lead successfully.  Much of this is observing and absorbing how they manage energy in themselves and the people around them.  This can only happen if you have direct access to leaders.  It’s hard to learn leadership from your peers, or people who are just one step ahead of you.  You want a job where entry level staff get direct access to the real leaders of the company.

 

#4 – Where will you hone your personal acumen?
Every good employee-employer relationship should be two directional.  You should be able to answer the question, “what value does the company provide me?” but also “what value do I provide this company?”  I think about this in two ways.

Job Acumen in which you become increasingly valuable in your job over time.
Personal Acumen in which you become increasingly valuable to ANY job over time.

To use a very simple example, Job Acumen would be getting better at pitching your company’s product.  Personal Acumen would be learning how to be more persuasive in any business meeting.  It’s important that your first job nurtures both – you need to learn real skills and become valuable in a specific job, but you also need to nurture your own Personal Acumen in ways that are valuable in any job.

 

#5 – Where will you have a voice?
I list this last on purpose because it is badly desired but overhyped by most young people today.  I was the same way – believing my opinion was important enough to be heard the minute I stepped out of school.  In most good jobs today, your voice should be heard.  Any company that discourages its employees from voicing their opinion – internally and externally, is a warning sign for lots of other reasons you don’t want to work there.  It’s also true that good ideas can come from anywhere – even you, Mr. First Day.  But, I say it’s overhyped because there is something to be said for just shutting up and learning.  Something I’ve done in fits and starts throughout my career, but which I valued tremendously when I did.

It’s a complicated job market with increasing competition for the young people who will truly revolutionize business.  With more corporate influence in the hands of young people than ever before, you really do have tremendous opportunities if you choose wisely.  I try hard to be personally accessible to driven, capable young people, as do the rest of our firm’s leadership.  If you’re considering a job here, just reach out.  It’s your career…