I graduated from college with a Bachelors degree in Communication. My university’s Communication program was nothing to boast about–there were just enough classes offered that you could complete the amount of academic hours required for a college major, but not much was offered beyond that. At my school, “Communication” was just the quickest way to say “Print, Audio, and Visual Journalism with Some Public Relations Influence.” Most of my classes within my major were about similar subjects, and professors would sometimes cover the same topic that I’d learned in a previous class. No subject was covered so consistently and comprehensively though as the subject of how much money we should expect once we had graduated.
Dismally, professor by professor in the Communication department pulled up the same statistics for us all to look at semester after semester. What the stats said was that I should expect an annual salary not much better than that of a fast food chain employee for at least the first several years out of college–that is, if I was even able to land a job. Another subject often broached by my professors was that of job scarcity. “In the communication field,” they’d say, “you might have to work several unpaid internships before earning a paying job.” My classmates and I were bombarded with the reminders that we were not going to make any money or find a job, even with our 4-year degrees in hand.
Outside the classroom, things weren’t much better either. There were constant reminders of how scarce work was. Attending college in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession did not leave me with a lot of faith in my job prospects after graduation. Which is why, after applying for internship after internship after graduation, I happily accepted a paid internship from the first company that would offer it to me.
I remember my first day of work so vividly. I awoke early to pack my lunch and fill my new coffee tumbler up for the day. The outfit I wore had been picked out the night before and laid carefully on my dresser. As I drove to work, I felt so elated and accomplished. I felt that I’d proved my college professors wrong. They all thought I wouldn’t get a job? If they could only see me now. Here I was, just one month out of college, driving through the early morning summer sun on the way to the first day of the rest of my career in marketing. I envisioned solving important problems for clients, and creative brainstorming sessions, and fun office Christmas parties. I was so excited.
It took all of two months before I thought about quitting.
The paid internship, which was really an hourly-salaried, full-time position, was tumultuous to say the least. During the year I worked with the small company, my coworkers and I were subject to working conditions that have yielded such Glassdoor reviews as…
“It’s not uncommon to be given specific instructions, follow the instructions, and then be openly ridiculed in a group and told you’re stupid.”
“Fear tactics and childish psychological games [are used] to keep staff in line.”
“A revolving door of employees, a leader with personality issues, and vague objectives that seem to constantly change.”
It became quickly apparent that this job and this company were going nowhere. What I had signed on for was not the great job I had expected, but a mediocre job that provided negligable benefits in terms of career growth or monetary value. And the worst part of all was that, if I hadn’t been so desperate for work, I might have been able to see that ahead of time.
As soon as I was given the opportunity to work, I took it, no questions asked.
If you go to buy groceries while you’re hungry, you’ll almost inevitably buy something on a whim that you shouldn’t purchase normally. My job search went a bit like that. I was starving for work, and being told that I wasn’t going to be able to find any made me that much more desperate to find someone who would hire me. As soon as I was given the opportunity to work, I took it, no questions asked. During my interview, I didn’t ask questions about the growth potential of my position, about the growth path of the company, about the clientele, about the company culture. I didn’t ask anything–I just sat there answering questions in a way that I hoped would make me seem like a qualified candidate. But I’m not sure that I myself believed I was a qualified candidate.
Because I’d been so prepared for trying to find a job in a bad job market, I underprepared myself for seeking a job that would benefit me personally and professionally, and I think many 20somethings these days must be in the same position I was in. It’s hard to really assess whether or not a potential job is the right fit for you when you’re worried that no other job offers will ever come around.
Of course everyone will have a job that isn’t the perfect fit for them at some point, and likely that’ll be their first job. There’s a reason nearly every adult you know can tell you horror stories from their first “grown up job”–in most careers, you’ve got to start from the bottom. But starting from the bottom of the career totem pole doesn’t necessarily mean working at a company that undervalues and disrespects you.
What I wish I’d known before I started my job search out of college is that I, as an employee, am an asset. I might not be an expert in any particular subject just yet, but my potential is limitless, and my potential is where my value lies.
Having confidence in my worth as a potential employee made a huge difference when I did inevitably start the interview process for my second job, which I am in now. I knew what aspects of the company and of my position would be integral in providing a good working experience for me. I was also able to objectively consider what I would actually be able to bring to the table at this company, rather than simply crossing my fingers and hoping someone would hire me regardless of my strengths and weaknesses.
During my interviews, I made sure to ask questions that were specific to the things I really loved or hated about my first job. Since the company culture wasn’t great at my first job, I asked questions that helped me to determine the differences between the values of my first company and the new one. Because my relationship with my coworkers was awesome at my previous job, I inquired heavily about the current coworker dynamic at my new job. Determining how the high and low points of my first job matched up against my new one during the interview was immensely helpful in finding a job that I absolutely love today.
All in all, not many college grads will be in the position to get the job of their dreams right out of the starting gate. But that doesn’t mean you should settle for a nightmare job either. If job hunting is 75% finding a company you can work for, it’s at least 25% finding a company that will work for you, too. Value yourself as an asset enough to consider that the next time you find yourself in the market for a job.
For another great resource on the same topic, check out this killer LinkedIn article on the importance of finding a company you fall in love with.