How to choose a job as a recent graduate

Earlier this week, I spoke with a student who recently completed his graduate degree. We spoke about his career plans in general and what his first post-graduate degree job should be in particular.

Rather than evaluate specific options, I shared a framework for how he could think about his alternatives. The same framework is valid for recent undergraduates.

Specifically, I think that there are four factors which matter when choosing a job. These are what you’re doing, who you’re working with, what you learn from the work, and how much you’re paid.

If you know what you want to be doing, the first factor is the most important. Unfortunately, most recent graduates don’t have a lot of work experience so it’s unlikely that they can accurately assess what they want to be doing.

Of the other factors, the easiest to measure is how much you’re paid. Because it’s easy to measure, it’s also easy to compare across jobs and across your friends. Therefore many recent graduates use it as the most important factor in their job selection. I made the same mistake.

Although they’re more difficult to measure, who you’re working with and what you learn from your work are much more important. Even if you work just 40 hours a week, this is at least a third of your waking hours. So who you work with during these 40 hours matters. The people you work with can be the difference between whether you live a happy or an unhappy life.

And the younger you are, the greater the importance of what you learn from your work. At a young age, you’ll get more from investing your time to acquire new skills that you can successfully monetize later than you’ll get from poorly monetizing your existing limited skill set at present. So it makes sense to work in an environment where you’ll be challenged, learn a lot of functional skills, and grow as a person.

The bottom line is that if you’re a recent graduate who knows what they want to be doing, you should go out and find a way to make it happen. If you don’t know, you should choose your job based on who you’ll be working with and how much you’ll learn. If you do, the pay will eventually take care of itself.