You’ve been looking for a job for months. You’ve sent out your resume to dozens of places every day. You’ve gone on one too many promising interviews. But you finally, finally have a job offer in hand.
You might feel like you should just accept it out of desperation, but not so fast.
I know the feeling. It was only three years ago I was in the same situation. I had just graduated from college, and due to family troubles, I was being pressured into finding a full-time job as soon as possible. I went on around ten interviews landed three job offers, and took the one that paid the most and had the most promise.
I didn’t have much choice at the time, but if you have the luxury of being a little picky with your first job, you should take advantage of it. This will set the tone for the rest of your career. It pays to be smart about your first job.
Instead of jumping at the first offer you receive, here’s what you should be looking for when accepting your first full-time job.
Let’s start with the most obvious – what you’re going to be paid. You might think this is cut and dry, but it’s not.
There’s a difference between being salaried or hourly, for example. If you’re salaried, then you don’t get paid for overtime. You may be able to accrue paid time off (PTO), but you won’t be able to pad your paycheck with extra hours worked. If you’re hourly, you’re entitled to time and a half when working over 40 hours a week (and sometimes more if you work holidays).
Then again, some companies put restrictions on how much overtime you can work. I enjoyed putting in overtime at my second job until an announcement was made that we were to work as close to 40 hours as possible. That was a bummer as I had been paying more toward my student loans with the extra money!
On the other hand, my fiance works 50 hours a week at times (48 hours a week is normal for his company). Thankfully, he still gets paid overtime, but the extra hours makes a huge difference in his salary. If he were to leave and take another job for the same hourly rate at 40 hours a week, he’d be taking a pay cut.
Speaking of hours, you need to get a realistic sense of how many hours you’re expected to work, too. If you’re salaried and employees are expected to stay late often, it might not be worth it. Do the math.
With pay out of the way, we can focus on other benefits you want to consider with any job offer. While salary is important, it’s only one part of your compensation package. There are many other benefits that could make up for lower pay.
One big factor, at least for Americans, is the amount of paid vacation time you’re allowed. This was one of the most frustrating things to me as a new employee, especially because I held three different jobs within two and a half years (my fault, I know).
Most entry-level employees are given a total of around ten paid days per year (sick + vacation time). That’s not a lot, and it’s even worse when you’ve been bitten by the travel bug and want to get away.
Keep in mind that while you can negotiate your pay (and should!), you might also want to consider negotiating more vacation time (possibly unpaid), especially if the employer can’t meet you on salary. This is also where accumulating PTO days can come in handy, so be sure to ask about their policies on time off.
This is a huge benefit if you’re a recent graduate and want to go back to school to get your master’s degree. I’m a little weird and actually enjoyed college, so I’d gladly go back on someone else’s dime.
Just be sure to read over your employer’s policy before taking advantage. You may be required to stick to certain courses or programs, achieve certain grades, or stay with the company for a certain amount of time after getting your degree.
You shouldn’t look at it as just a way to get a free education. Your employer is expecting you to bring extra value to the table afterward.
You might not be too concerned with this if you’re on your parents’ insurance until you’re 26 (I am very lucky to be in that situation), but in the event you’re not covered, or only partially covered, you need to look at the insurance plans offered.
The amount of money you have to pay for insurance needs to factor in because it can eat away a big chunk of your pay. My fiance was pretty disappointed when, after three months of probation, his paycheck suddenly decreased by a few hundred dollars due to his insurance cost. You need to plan for that. If you aren’t on your parents’ plan and your employer doesn’t offer coverage, you need to shop around for the best plan for your health and your budget. Check out your state’s exchange and commercial sites like E Health Insurance to find the insurance you need.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this as I wish it was something I had thought of when accepting any job I took. I never had access to a 401(k) at any of my jobs.
I regret missing out on a few years of contributions. Saving for retirement as soon as possible is extremely beneficial, so don’t overlook the importance of this benefit. Ask what type of plan is offered, and how long you have to work there before you can start contributing.
Also ask if matching contributions are offered, and how much they’re willing to match. Anywhere from 3- 6% is relatively standard.
The advancement opportunities of any job you take should be considered. All the companies I worked for were on the smaller side, and unfortunately, that meant limited room for growth.
I managed to get a promotion at my second job only because someone else was let go and the position needed to be filled. However, there wasn’t really anywhere to go from there. The work became repetitious and I didn’t feel challenged.
You should always be looking to the future with your career as you don’t want to stay stagnant. Of course, you can’t predict what might happen – I certainly never thought I’d be self-employed, but having some sort of game plan helps.
If there are no opportunities for advancement, then hopefully the job presents you with a good opportunity to develop your network.
Culture and Fit
This isn’t something written in your offer, but you should absolutely ask about this during interviews. You want to know how well you’ll fit into the workplace culture, and what’s expected of employees.
For example, if you like to goof off occasionally, or share a laugh with coworkers, you don’t want to work in a stuffy environment where talking amongst each other is frowned upon. If you can’t be some professional version of yourself at work, you’re going to be miserable.
There’s no one benefit that stands out above the rest. I’d never recommend you take one job over the other simply because it offers you more vacation days. My favorite thing to do in this situation is make a ‘pro and con’ list. Figure out what factors are most important to you and go from there. The worst thing you can do is rush into a decision. It’s perfectly okay to ask for a day to think things over; if you’re being pressured already, think about what that might say about the company.
Have you ever rushed into a job? What factors are most important to you when choosing to take a job? What other factors do you think should be considered when looking at your first full-time job offer?