6 Things You Don’t Think Matter… Until You Start Your First Job

looking to the future
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Remember back when you were looking at colleges and how you thought you knew what mattered? Maybe you were wooed by the fancy-pants gym at your school… only once you got there, you never actually set foot inside it because you had no time to work out. Or perhaps you liked the really cool nooks and crannies in the library… but it turns out silence gives you a headache and you much prefer to study in the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop.

You can try as hard as you’d like to make decisions that “future you” will enjoy, but it turns out that “future you” isn’t always as similar to “now you” as you’d expect.

Just ask recent grad Deirdre Quirk. She’s been working at her first job (post-graduation) for about a month now, and she’s been a little surprised to discover how her priorities have shifted. Read on to find out which surprising things actually mattered to Deirdre—and how this might have an impact on your job search.

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I’ve had a job for about one month now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would approach a job search differently now. I’ve realized that my priorities are not quite what I thought they were. Some things I had thought about during my job search but didn’t give much weight to at the time; some things never even occurred to me.

Of course, the biggest difference now is that if/when I begin another job search, I will have the security of already being employed. There are some factors that seemed negligible when I was unemployed (like the availability of good food or the autonomy of the position) that would influence my choice differently now that I have monetary security.

1. Commute

When I was looking for jobs, almost no distance was too great for me to rule out a position. If it was anywhere in the Bay Area, I would consider it. Now, with a job in the same city as my house, my commute takes almost an hour each way on public transit, and I feel incredibly lucky that I ended up with the job I did.

I cannot imagine how much time (and energy) a longer commute would suck out of my day. If I were looking for work again, I would definitely rule out anything that took more than an hour to reach one way.

This is most definitely a personal preference. The ideal commute depends on where you live, what kind of transportation you use, and how much you hate traveling, but the commute is something I never considered while looking for a job. And it would definitely be high on my list in the future.

2. Perks

Perks are all the things you don’t think about, and maybe aren’t advertised, but absolutely matter. Most people consider the official benefits package, but there are plenty of other “benefits” that can make a huge difference in how much you like the job.

Is there an on-site cafeteria with cheap, delicious food? Free coffee? No food in the office but plenty of restaurants right next to it? Reserved parking? Commuter benefits? Now that I’ve worked in an office for a month, I can say with certainty that in the future any and all of these perks would definitely be a deciding factor. I might not consider these factors in deciding which job to apply to, but certainly in deciding which job to take.

3. Culture

I work in an office with no dress code, beer in the fridge, and regular social outings like office-wide scavenger hunts. I love it; some people would hate it.

Culture was always on my list of considerations when looking for a job. But now that I’ve been in the working world, I feel like I have a much better idea of what indicates/influences culture. This includes things like the size of the office, whether the boss has a separate space, whether people work in cubicles or in open-plan areas, whether people bring their own coffee mugs to work or whether everyone brings in Starbucks, and so on.

In the future, I would always want to see a workspace before accepting a position and would pay much more attention to what that workspace looked and felt like. [Editor’s note: Check out this post on company culture to learn more about company culture and what kinds of things to consider when sussing out whether a company is a good fit for you.]

4. Flexibility

How much control do you have over your own hours? Can you choose which shift to work, or even when to come in? How long is your lunch break? Do you choose when you work overtime (or does your company)? Are you free to take short breaks as needed, or are your breaks monitored?

How much paid time off are you offered? And how does that paid time off work? One of my friends is working a job that offers a lot of paid time off, but her company doesn’t stop assigning work while she is gone.

I now realize the more flexibility and control I have over my own schedule, the happier I am.

5. Autonomy

Maybe this is not surprising, but it’s still incredibly important: the amount of control you have over the work you are doing makes a huge difference in how much you like your job. Deciding which project you are going to work on next and how you are going to tackle it is one big example, but even smaller decisions make a difference.

As a customer service representative, I am given a large amount of discretion in deciding how to solve people’s problems, when to offer people store credit or a refund or something else, how much to offer them, and so on. That level of decision-making is crucial to maintaining my interest in my work and thus my happiness.

The next time I look for a job, I’ll definitely consider the level of autonomy as an incredibly important factor.

6. Passion

Does the job fit into a larger interest, passion, or career goal of yours? This last factor is in many ways the most important, and can override other factors on the list.

I would pick a job with a long commute, terrible hours, and bad food if I felt passionately about the work I was doing. Along with autonomy, passion is the major factor in job satisfaction and would probably be my number one deciding factor in a future job search.

Homework time! Spend a little time thinking about which aspects of a job would matter most to you. You might find it helpful to come up with a list of “need to haves” and “nice to haves” (for example, a commute that’s longer than an hour might be a deal-breaker, but perhaps you could live without free snacks). Your list will probably evolve once you start working, but it’s great to spend time thinking about these things before you start working.

Deirdre Quirk graduated from Reed College in May 2014 and after a month and a half of job searching, took a position as a Customer Care Representative for Chloe + Isabel. She is planning on going back to school in a few years, probably to get a Master’s in Library Science.

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