Your First Job After College. What About the Salary?
Published on October 31st 2016, 16:44 PM< Back


So you graduate and get into the job market trying to land your first job. At that point, there are a number of decisions that you will have to contend with and those decisions will shape your entire career. Unfortunately, not many students understand this and for the majority of students that graduate from our program, when I tell them about jobs, the first question they ask is, “which one pays more?”.


In this article, first I will explain why this is a wrong question, then I will tell you the right questions to ask, then I will explain why the right questions are right. So for those who are more concerned about which job pays more, If I showed you which one, would you be qualified to get it?

Suppose I tell you that I am a friend of the hiring manager and that I can help you land that job, what if you get there and find out that it is the worst job in the world for you and that it is making your life very miserable? Then what?


As you can see, there is a lot more to “accepting a job offer” than the nominal salary. I should mention here that majority of our students who stick to seeking high salary paying jobs end up quitting or getting fired within the first six months on the job. If you are trying to figure out why, let me give you a hand there: why do you think the company is offering higher than average salary? They are certain not stupid.


Hopefully by now you are beginning to understand why you should care about the “right” questions first. Let me list them now:


  1. What is the most pressing problem that you have right now?

  2. Your sphere of influence. Can it work to your advantage?

  3. Are you a risk taker?

  4. Money or passion, which would you pursue, if required, today?


The answers to these four questions should cover the basis of job and company selection for most students. Now I will go into the details of the importance of each question.


The Most Pressing Problem

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, every human is at the mercy of his/her health. Without good health, no one can satisfactorily perform any task. If you have a serious health condition and you are desperately in need of good health insurance, you would care more about the stability of the company and the type of health insurance the company provides to its employees than the amount you will get, in salary, per pay period. If you are in a situation of serious financial constraint on the other hand, you will probably not be selective. Instead, you will just be grateful to have an offer on the table and you will probably jump at the first one even if you could have earned more by waiting and considering other offers. The point here is to look at your present situation and consider, first, your most pressing need before worrying about salary figures.


Your Sphere of Influence

Once you have successfully eliminated uncontrollable circumstances that can force you to go in specific directions, the rest of the choices are within your control and you should select wisely. One thing that I have noticed is that students who have friends and family members in specific IT fields turn out to be more successful in those fields. I suspect that the success is because the experienced friends and family members act as mentors to the students. If you have a mentor that is truly willing to help, you will avoid many costly mistakes in addition to earning better salaries. With the help of a mentor, you will match and beat the salaries of most of your peers. So before striking out on your own and pursuing the highest bidder for your services, you should really think of where you are likely to find support.


Affinity for Risk

Understanding your risk tolerance is a critical part of career planning. In fact, it is the foundation on which every other career decision should be based. To explain the role of risk tolerance in career planning, I will start with the two extremes of risk tolerance and highlight the effect of each.


Let's start by identifying a risk tolerant student. Such a student, in this context, is a student who has explored the possibility of exploiting opportunities in the past. Whether or not the person has ever been successful is irrelevant. The important factor is that this student has dedicated considerable amount of resources to the exploitation of a perceived opportunity. My finding is that such a student is likely to develop great interest in entrepreneurship and will probably feel boxed in a constrained working environment. If you are one of those, kindly stay away from big companies for your own good. Big companies tend to divide labor to such an extent that individual contributors, as you will be called, do not feel that their efforts have a great impact on the company's bottom line. These types of work are very inflexible from a creative standpoint. Instead, you will be doing exactly what the company needs you to do for your supervisor or subsection of the company and thereby killing the genius inside you that is trying hard to be heard. I totally understand that this is a very difficult advice to accept because most of us have a great desire to work for big name companies and until we satisfy that crave, we feel that the genius in us has not yet been discovered but I hope that you will have the courage to resist this big temptation.


As for the risk averse students, these types of students may or may not have lots of ideas flowing through their heads. The ideas, suggestions and opinions are irrelevant anyhow. It is really the attempt to exploit perceived opportunities that really determine risk affinity. Risk averse students are those who have never attempted to exploit any opportunities. My finding is that people with this personality make great employees. They find it a lot easier to climb corporate ladders and attain “choicy” positions within organizations. These types of people find it more convenient to plan life events including vacation and retirement. Again, this is the other extreme and if you happen to be in this category, big companies are for you. Big companies are generally more stable and will give you the opportunity to plan your life.


In reality, lots of people fall somewhere between the two extremes and they will generally have some combination of risk tolerance and aversion. Understanding your risk tolerance index will help make the best choice of company selection for you easy. Otherwise, you might start out on the wrong path and eventually figure things out at a later stage in life.


Money or Passion
When you have considered everything else, this is your success catalyst. This is what keeps you up at night and gets you out of bed in the morning. You really have to ask yourself whether or not you have a passion for anything in particular or if money is your greatest motivation for job and performance. Whatever that motivation is, it deserves a higher priority than the nominal salary that is being offered for a job. I have seen more people quit their jobs in search of “themselves” just because they didn't get a feeling of fulfillment than for any other reason. As a matter of fact, more people switch their careers not for lack of work or demand for their services but in their search for more fulfilling jobs.


As you can see, the amount that your first job pays is not as important as many other factors surrounding you and your career goals. Getting the first job/company right will help put your career on the right track from the onset so that you will not have to do a career “rework” along the way.


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