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Reality Check: There’s More to a First Job Than Salary

By Glassdoor – Feb 7, 2018 at 6:37PM

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Your first real paycheck can be exciting -- but don't let it blind you.

Are you a job-seeking Millennial, or do you know one? My company, Hawke Media, employs mostly Millennials, and the negative press they get is unwarranted.

Still, it's common for folks fresh out of college to have lofty expectations when it comes to salary. A growing cultural mindset has graduates thinking if they know how to use social media, people will pay them a ton of money.

Businessperson being handed a check.

Image source: Getty Images.

I hate to break it to you, but that ain't gonna happen. It might if you graduate with an accounting or chemical engineering degree from a school with a feeder program, but the notion that you'll make six figures right away with a liberal arts degree is unrealistic.

Focusing on dollar signs can give you tunnel vision and cloud your ability to view job offers as comprehensive packages. While everyone wants a higher income, more money won't necessarily put you in the best position to grow professionally or make you happier at work, and this all bleeds into your personal life.

What Could Be More Important Than Money?

Rather than focus on money, position yourself for success down the road with your first job out of college. As you receive offers, ask yourself these five questions to determine your best option.

1. What's the Financial Opportunity?

Notice I didn't ask, "What's the starting salary?" Opportunity is bigger than salary. Don't just look for a high-paying job; seek opportunities to test your mettle and cut your teeth. Find an employer who rewards high performance.

Some companies will let you structure a package with stretch goals that correspond to raises or bonuses based on performance. First, ask enough questions to know what strong performance looks like, and let them know you'll accept a lower starting salary if the package includes rewards for meeting specific metrics and KPIs. Then, blow all of your milestones out of the water to prove you deserve more.

2. What's Your Potential Trajectory?

Think about your whole career, not just the first year of it. Is there a clear path to more senior positions? Is there a training program? Consider the professional and personal growth opportunities to find the right fit.

LinkedIn is a great way to stalk -- I mean, connect with -- people who work at a specific company. Ask for 10 minutes on the phone to get a sense of the culture. Ask about their path to success, how long they've been at it, and how they feel about it. If everyone sees a short lifespan at the company or doesn't seem excited to work there, no matter how good the money is, it's probably not a good long-term bet.

3. Who Will You Work For?

That's who you'll be learning from. Research shows job satisfaction is contingent upon whether or not colleagues and managers support you when you face problems. One benefit of being young and offered a lower salary is that you're a low-risk hire who can afford to ask questions.

Don't be impressed by titles or how quickly people earned them. Pay attention to the way managers talk and what their vision is. Ask questions about their belief systems, how they see themselves as managers and what their strengths are. When candidates ask me those kinds of questions, my ears perk up -- I can tell they care.

4. How Is the Company Structured?

Is the organization flat or hierarchical? Does the org chart flow in one direction or all over the map? More importantly, what matters to you?

There are no right or wrong structures, only good and bad fits. If you like autonomy, you won't want to work for an organization that has tightly woven job descriptions and offers no latitude. If you prefer structure and having things spelled out, you'll be miserable at a company that prioritizes entrepreneurial thinking.

5. What Are the Fringe Benefits?

Free daily breakfast is nice if you're a starving college grad, but does the company really take care of its people? At Hawke, we give Christmas gifts, take our team on trips, and offer a generous vacation policy. We demand a lot of our employees; we also give a lot in return.

Taking less money to pursue a valuable professional development opportunity is often a great move. Don't just do something for the next six months, though; commit yourself to that first job out of college for a couple of years. You'll get a lot more out of it -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. But it will all add up to more experience and a clearer idea of where you want to go from there. And that's priceless.

Tony Delmercado is the COO at Hawke Media, a passionately curious entrepreneur and an all-around solid dude. He enjoys building businesses, playing golf, improving his Krav Maga and jiu-jitsu game, writing, studying business tax loopholes and eating Mexican food. He spends his weekends at the T&A Bungalow in Santa Monica hanging with his wife, Anthea; his sons, Onyx and Fox; and his dog, Naz.

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