Professional Tips: How NOT to look for your first job and setting expectations

July 24, 2019 | Categories: Blog

In this blog entry Tom Northardt shares two tips to job-seekers just finishing up college. Tom visits multiple college campuses yearly, interviews dozens of new candidates, and has hosted numerous internships. He also started MIKEL’s Young Professionals Development Seminar Series. Below he shares two tips on seeking your first job and setting expectations.

Tip 1: Don’t Shop For Job Like You’re Shopping For A Car

I noticed the similarity between how new college grads approach job seeking and car buying several years ago. I’ve had many potential new graduates shop around for positions and consider MIKEL as a candidate. They will say to me “…this company is offering 8% 401K contribution and you’re offering 7% and they’re offering 26 days of PTO and you’re offering 25.” I usually say, “Uh huh, and?” As if the metrics their using for comparison are exhaustive and clearly favor the competitor. I think the smart candidates consider the bigger picture.

First, cover the basics. Make sure the employer is contributing to your 401k, offers PTO, a good medical plan, and a reasonably competitive salary. Check that box and then look at the bigger picture. I believe the most important contribution an employer can make is into your professional and personal growth (tacit assumption here is that you want to grow – free riders need not apply 🙂)

You’re a whole person. You have professional goals and personal goals. A good employer cares about them both and wants to help you develop to realize your highest potential in all aspects. When I work with employees I ask about their personal goals and make sure we plan those into our yearly goals. For high-performing employees, salaries can skyrocket from their starting point so starting salary is irrelevant. And, the major factors that influence your end retirement 401k portfolio are 1) how much you are contributing, 2) how soon you begin investing and 3) fees. Employer match has very little impact on your retirement portfolio 35 years from now. So, again, that is irrelevant. So, forget comparing bells and whistles like you’re shopping for a car. Don’t worry about the 401k match, the starting salary, and how many PTO days you get. But do worry significantly about what the employer is willing to do to investment in you!


Tip 2: Dial-In Your Expectations

Listen, I think we may need some honest truth here. I believe our newest young bright minds may have some overly optimistic and unrealistic expectations. Even if you graduated with a 4.0 from MIT you’re not going to cure world hunger on Day 1. I mean, on Day 1 you’ve barely identified where the bathroom and breakroom are.

I am being a bit facetious but I have worked with, and coached, many young engineers that become frustrated very quickly with their advancement. I think engineering is one of the most exciting and under-glorified fields of potential employment. Engineers literally take ideas, concepts, wishes and dreams and make them a reality – from nothing! Good engineers care about their contribution to the bigger world and desire to impact their world positively. At MIKEL we’re of the caring and compassionate cohort who take great pride in developing innovative technology for our U.S. Navy and the world at-large. However, what young engineers often do not realize (which contributes to their frustration) is there is growth curve that is nearly flat for a long time with an exponentially increasing tail. Spending 7 to 10 years on the flat portion of the growth curve is not unrealistic. That means, for us to really take off and bring greatness to our world, we’re going to have to have to pay our due time. And, that’s intentional. Because in that meanwhile you’re learning and building your skills for your take-off. It’s slow for me, it’s slow for everyone, and it’ll be slow for you. But, I believe that any skills worth achieving and cherishing come slow and hard. So, don’t hate the wait!