As members of the class of 2014 prepare to receive their diplomas, many are also preparing to accept their first full-time job offers. But without much professional experience, these new grads may not know what to look for in an employer.
"In this market, it is more important than ever for recent graduates to be considerate and knowledgeable when accepting or even seeking out their first opportunity," said Rona Borre, CEO and founder of talent management firm Instant Technology. "You want [the company] to be as much of a fit for you as you are a fit for it. If it's not, you'll be looking to leave months after you've joined the firm."
Going from college student to working professional is a huge adjustment, but working for the right company can make that transition much easier. Career experts shared their advice on the most important questions to ask yourself when looking for your first job out of school. [5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Full-Time Job]
Will the job build the right skill set and experiences for my career path?
As an entry-level applicant, you're not going to have the experience necessary to move up the ranks right away. The first job you take after graduation will likely serve as a stepping stone to your next company, and you want to make sure that the position will give you something valuable to add to your résumé. But don't just accept any job for the sake of being employed — make sure it's one that makes sense for your career path.
"You should only be going after job opportunities that you want," said Payal Agrawal Divakaran, co-founder of startup ranking site SpotRocket. "Pursuing a job that you are reasonably interested in will help to build skills, keep you relevant and establish your career journey."
What are the salary and benefits?
Salary is a tricky issue for entry-level jobs. The starting salary rarely pays what the new college graduate hopes to make, but applicants shouldn't discount an otherwise-perfect job because of a low offer number, especially if the company says there are opportunities for growth. On the flip side, Borre said that it's important for job seekers to know the market value for similar positions, so they don't sell themselves short.
"A scan of job sites or a discussion with a trustworthy recruiter can reveal what the market is paying for someone with your experience and skill sets," she said. "It's important to remember that salary is far from everything, but it is equally important to make note of [the pay], as your starting salary will have an effect on the salary you'll make for years to come."
Borre also reminded graduates to keep benefit offerings such as healthcare and retirement savings plans in mind when selecting an employer. A better benefits package could help you decide between two fairly similar organizations.
What kind of longevity does the company have?
The idea of working for a startup can hold a lot of appeal for a new job seeker, especially if the new grad can play a tangible role in shaping the company's future. However, a brand new organization may not be the best place to establish the foundation of your career.
"New companies are popping up every day, but not all of them will make it year over year," Borre said. "While the hard work and 'bet big to win big' mentality of a startup is an incredible experience and match for some young professionals, [the uncertainty of its future] is something to keep in mind for those who are looking for a job and career choice that provides more stability."
Does the company have a good culture?
Company culture plays a large role in how happy you are in your first job, but it's not always easy to tell what an employer is really like before you start working there. Agrawal Divakaran recommended seeking out current and former employees during and after your initial interview so you can assess a company's culture.
"An employee's fit with the company culture and the other coworkers can make or break his or her career at the company," she told Business News Daily. "Ask employees questions about the hours they work, whether people hang out outside the office, how they are rewarded for exceptional work, how the management views employees taking risks and failing, etc. Whatever is important to you, ask about it."
If the company's culture is a good fit for you, but the job isn't exactly what you want to do, you may want to consider taking it anyway, said Dan Caffee, CEO of job search platform JobDash.
"Your first job probably won't be your dream job, but it should be part of a larger career road map," Caffee said. "The position, though it may not be ideal at first, could help you develop the necessary skills to pivot to another role within the company."
Originally published on Business News Daily.