This is the job searcher’s dream, isn’t it? Multiple amazing job offers that are so good you don’t know which is the right one. Or maybe it’s not that they’re all amazing, but that they’re all different: one has great benefits, the other is a company really going places, one has competitive pay, and you loved the person who would be your boss at the last one.
When you’re first starting out in your career with limited job experience, it can be incredibly difficult to evaluate what the right offer is because you don’t have the experience to know what is going to work best for you. When I was graduating from college, I had a friend who was graduating from the business school and the honors college, and she received multiple job offers that seemed great on paper. She didn’t take any of them and waited until she found the right fit in the industry she wanted in the city she wanted to live in, even though it took longer.
The moral of the story isn’t to wait because eventually the perfect company will offer you a spot, it’s that it takes time and some hard work to know what you want and to know what the best option is for you. The right job offer for my roommate was really different than the right offer for me, and it’s probably going to look different to you too. Here are some guidelines that can help you with the decision-making process:
Know Thy Self
Do the prep ahead of time to know what you’re looking for. Take the time to figure out what the most important characteristics are for you in a job because unless you’re really lucky, you’re going to have to compromise on something, and if you’re prepared, you’ll have the self-awareness to compromise on the least important things.
Ask questions during the interview process to understand the company culture and what their expectations are, not only for your job but for how you show up at work (do people socialize a lot, do people challenge each other and argue or are they polite, and what’s the dress code, etc.). Figure out beforehand what your commute would be. Look at how much money you need and how long you’d be comfortable with your first salary.
Some of this can be hard to know if you don’t have much experience but draw from the experience you do have. What types of groups do you work well in? What city do you want to live in, and how much does that change your budget? Are you proud to tell people that you work at Initech, or kind of embarrassed?
This step is really about doing your own introspection and beginning to understand what’s important to you, and it is arguably the most important. The rest are a little more objective, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of serious self-reflection, keep reading because the questions get easier for you.
An important thing to evaluate, especially if a job that’s offered to you is not your dream job, is how well this job prepares you for your next job. Will this job teach you skills that will be important later? Think about how the job you are considering would look on your resume.
Take a job that puts you in a good position for the future and that will create opportunities with you. This includes jobs that create opportunities in a new industry, build new skills, and helps you make new connections. Companies with high name recognition and those known to have strong training programs, especially within your industry, are great for building your reputation.
This advice is important whenever you are considering a new job, but especially if you really don’t know what you want from your first work experience. Taking a job that allows you to learn as broadly about the business and industry as possible will help you take a good first step in building a strong career, once you finally do know what you do want to do.
Even if you are still unsure by the time you need to make a decision, make sure you make a choice. If you start by letting your career happen to you, you are starting off on the wrong foot. If you don’t take responsibility for your own career right off the bat, you may find yourself reacting rather than planning, or even worse, disengaged and unhappy down the line.
Even if you end up being unhappy with your first choice, turn it into a learning experience rather than a failure. Continuing to learn about yourself, what works for you and what doesn’t, is valuable in itself.
And remember, your first job is just that, the first one, and as long as you’re intentional, you will continue to learn and make even better choices. CNN reported in 2016 that the new normal is for new graduates to change jobs four times by the time they are 32. If you realize you want to make a change, you always can. (We can help with that.)
This might sound self-explanatory, but it needs to be said. Be successful. Be valuable. Make yourself necessary, even if you don’t love your job.
One of the ways you can continue to set yourself up for success is by having super-fans in the workforce who will continue to advocate for you. How do you collect super-fans? By being the best you can be at what you do and building a portfolio of successes.
If you still feel completely lost, these are the things to consider:
Get into sales. Learning how to sell early in your career is incredibly valuable because every business needs sales, understanding customers teaches powerful business lessons, and it is a skill that for many is harder to learn the older you are.
Business functions like audit, project management, and HR put you in a good position to work with people in many different areas of the company and can create a lot of opportunity for learning (and just maybe learning what you really want to do.)
Ask for help. If you don’t have a career mentor (which isn’t surprising early in your career), it might be time to engage a career coach. Someone who has experience in different industries and is an expert in helping people just like you figure out what kind of work will be the best fit for you.
Written in collaboration with John Philbin.