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Career Planning

Be Picky with your First Job

Before you say "yes," think about whether it's the right job for you.

Kay Peterson, Ph. D.

March 18, 2009

Be Picky with your First Job

What a relief! Your first job offer. But before you say "yes," think about whether it's the right job for you.

Start by asking your prospective employer for some time before you make your decision. Anywhere from a few days to a week is acceptable. Take that time to figure out what's most important to you and weigh the job against those criteria. Be sure to think about:


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Compensation isn't just salary. It includes a whole package of perks, pluses and benefits. Get the details on:

It may not be a simple figure. Your pay can include a number of components. Be sure to get your entire salary package in writing in an offer letter. Ask about:

  • Salary: The yearly figure that counts as your base pay
  • Bonuses: Additional amounts typically allotted if you meet your goals for productivity or quality. Often, this is a percentage of your salary package and is contingent upon your reaching concrete, job-specific goals that are set in advance
  • Raises: Increases to your salary that will accrue over time. Some companies follow a set schedule for performance review that can result in regular raises
  • Commissions: Positions in sales frequently offer a base salary that is augmented by a percentage of the profit you generate for the company

In addition the dollars you receive as your salary package, your job should include additional benefits that don't offer cash up front, but nonetheless increase the value of your employment offer.

  • Insurance: Ask what kinds of insurance are offered (medical, dental, life), who is covered and when you can enroll (immediately or after a probationary period).
  • Vacations and Holidays: Every job offers a certain number of paid days off as part of your benefits.
  • Holidays: Standard holidays include New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Additional holidays may include the day after Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day and Christmas Eve.
    Vacation: You typically accrue more vacation days the longer you serve. Ask when vacation days are earned and when you'll see an increase.
    Personal days/sick days: These include additional days off used as sick time or to attend to personal needs.
  • Retirement Plans: Over the long run, a retirement plan adds up to big earnings. Typical plans include:
  • Pension plan: The employer puts money in an account on your behalf. The interest accrues, leaving you with big savings when you retire.
    401K Plan (tax deferred savings plan): A set percentage of your paycheck is invested regularly. These savings are not taxed until you close the account and they earn interest at a much higher rate than a traditional savings account. Ask whether your company makes matching contributions.
  • Opportunities to share in the company's success: Profit sharing and discount stock options can be used to increase the value of your benefits package.
  • Tuition Assistance Programs: Many employers are willing to assist with tuition costs for continuing education. It's a great chance to fulfill your educational goals and further your career.

Quality of Life

To make sure your job offers you a life you can live with, think about:

  • Job schedule: How long are the workdays? Will there be a lot of overtime? Weekend or evening hours?
  • Location: Will you be required to relocate or commute?
  • Job style: Does the style of work suit you? Will you be working in isolation or closely with other? Is the work is repetitive or varied?

Career Development

Consider whether this job will offer opportunities for you to grow professionally. Is there the potential for moving up in the company? Will you be learning skills you value that will put you on the right career track? Or will the job pigeonhole you in a field you don't want to pursue?

The final word: Be willing to say no. If the job doesn't stack up, politely decline and continue your search. It's better to weigh the pros and cons and wait for the right job.

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