Choosing your first job can be a tough decision to make. And not only because there are fewer appealing jobs than applicants out there.
First-time job-hunters usually fit a certain profile. They are – more often than not – overwhelmed by student debt and anxiety. Is that you? Then you may know what it’s like to come up against the choice between working at that interesting but cash-strapped startup and that big company that will give you more raises but that you think will also steal your soul. All the while your bank’s interest rates are looming at the back of your mind.
It’s hard enough with machines taking over people jobs, without adding a few handfuls of superstar companies into the mix of monsters peopling your pre-job search nightmares.
If only there was a formula to make your first big career choice easy. There isn’t. But there are some risk management strategies that could help you minimize the chances of a decision that you regret down the line.
TIP 1: Set Clear Goals
Setting clear goals is easier said than done. Most of us don’t know what we want for dinner later, leave alone where we see ourselves ten years from now. The ones that know at 16 that they want to become big data analysts and run an equestrian club are rare. Whether or not they are happy when they achieve their goals is a different matter. The point is, if you set goals, there are higher chances of achieving them.
This is where some careful soul-searching comes in. But there are two ways to approach your career soul-searching.
According to some advisers, it’s not very useful to think in terms of career milestones and job titles when you’re thinking ahead. Instead, you should think about what you want from your life and your career.
Do you want a career that will help you live a lavish life with all creature comforts? Or do you want one that will let you solve problems in the world and contribute to the good of mankind? Both choices are legitimate. In the end, your passions should drive you towards shaping your goals, along with some healthy pragmatism.
On the other hand, there are some people who will tell you to get a “safe” job. For fun, you can develop hobbies that you enjoy. At forty in your suburban home with your respectable family, you may regret not pursuing that opportunity to become an audio nomad as a fresh graduate years ago. But you’ll be financially stable and not have to travel in camper vans for weeks on end.
Which outlook you choose will depend entirely on who you are. Most of us don’t have the foresight to tell which choice today will make us happier in the future. It doesn’t matter. Set your goals and choose the job that fits in with your plans.
TIP 2: Protect Against External Risks
The job you’re considering may involve a few different kinds of risks. Some of these could be completely out of your control. The economy could go into recession, in which case you could face a layoff and unemployment.
But typically jobs that are so sensitive to the economy – or facing systemic risks – tend to pay well. If that’s a risk you’re willing to tolerate, a job in finance may be good for you.
There are some risks – idiosyncratic risks – that you can manage with a little strategy. For instance, soon after you join, the company could go out of business because the management wasn’t capable enough. Or after joining your first workplace, you may find out that the culture is not the right fit for you.
You can protect yourself against such risks by diversifying your skill sets. Be the jack of all trades, it’s handy in today’s economy. Craft a certain skill to a point above the value line, and you’ll have more options when trouble strikes. Sometime in the future, you may find yourself working on several projects and side businesses to your great satisfaction, while you put food on the table.
And how do you protect yourself against the coming robot invasion in the job economy? (And no, it’s no longer a laughing matter or the stuff of science fiction. By 2030, it is believed 38% of jobs in the US will be taken over by machines.)
Find out where the job you’re considering stands on the list of going robotic. For instance, a cashier will have a much higher chance of being replaced by a robot than a children’s author.
TIP 3: Don’t Blindly Fall for the Superstars or the Promising Startups
A letter of invitation from Google can seem like a jackpot. After all, the IT giant dominates its section of the industry and is set for growth. A job there can give your career a jumpstart. But it’s not always the easiest choice. Not everyone will fit in with the culture of workplaces like Google. You need the ability to navigate the politics and bureaucracy of a giant company to avoid becoming stagnant.
Startups, on the other hand, especially those with great promise, can attract you with opportunities to learn new skills and enjoy more responsibilities. But it’s also possible that the startup will fail or at best, be poorly run so you don’t learn much. You’ll want to be very careful when you join a startup the first time you enter the job market.
Another option for you would be to join an older company that is plodding along but can give you some quick credentials at the start of your career. But be prepared for some rigid management typical of old companies.
In the end, the company you join fresh from college will depend on what you want from your career. Keep your eyes and ears open for a job that pays what you need, has a work culture that fits, and also offers opportunities for growth. If you have to compromise on one or more of these things, think about whether it is worth the compromise. And most importantly, protect yourself against the risks that face job seekers in the modern world, especially the robots.