For two years in college, I worked as a career consultant in the career planning office. Every week day, I was advising my peers on best résumé practices, how to craft an attention-grabbing cover letter, and how to nail their interviews. Naturally, I thought I was prepared for my own job search. But it wasn’t until I started interviewing for my second job that I realized there were crucial questions I didn’t ask when interviewing for my first job. So even though I had the training in place from my work in the career center, I didn’t know any better. Learn from my mistakes, because even if your first job isn’t for forever, you should ensure it’s a good launchpad for a career.
1. What training is in place for me to learn the job?
Imagine sitting at your desk from 9 to 5 with no laptop, no assignments, and no training schedule. That was me on my first day. Welcoming, right? I had assumed that I would be trained on the functions of my job starting on day one — I was sadly mistaken. Over the course of my first week, I got one 30-minute presentation on what our team does and a mash-up of haphazard lessons from anyone who had free time. It would be an understatement to say that I didn’t feel wanted or valued as a new team member. When interviewing for a job, ask about the training that’s currently in place when onboarding a new team member. If they hesitate or say “nothing yet,” ask them about what they’re planning to teach you that first week, second week, and month after joining the team.
2. When are performance reviews and how are they typically structured?
I got one 90-day review over the 14 months I was at my job. And their feedback for me? Learn from my mistakes. I remember sitting in my review and feeling so uncomfortable — like I should have been leading the meeting because neither of my supervisors appeared to know what to do. I was appreciative of their feedback then, but in hindsight, it should have been more constructive. My advice to you: ask about performance reviews. When are they? How are they structured? Are promotions or raises discussed? Performance reviews may seem scary now, but the right team and the right company will make you feel the complete opposite. These are opportunities for you to discuss your progress, your career, and your accomplishments. Empowering!
3. When someone makes a mistake, how is the situation treated?
Passive aggressive mumbling. Tersely worded emails. Complete isolation at team meetings. Whenever I made a mistake (as big as accidentally copying a VP on an email, to as small as writing, “I’m excited to work with you” versus “we are excited to work with you”), I was faced with a cold shoulder instead of feedback from which to grow. Asking about making mistakes may seem awkward in an interview, but remember, you’re only human, and everyone makes mistakes. To ensure you’re treated fairly, try phrasing this question like, “As you know, mistakes happen. How does your team address, handle, and fix issues that may come up?”
4. What social obligations outside of work should I be aware of?
I love a group outing and any team bonding activity — in moderation. Being social with your coworkers is a blessing, don’t get me wrong. But you have your own relationships and friends you want to see, too. I was completely unaware of the social obligations I would have at my first job. We would have vendor dinners and outings every single week, which didn’t leave much (if any) time for the things I personally wanted to do, like go to the gym, make dinner with my friends, or catch a movie after work. Social outings on someone else’s dime sounds fun (and it is!), but the burnout can be real. It’s best to know what you can anticipate. Ask how about team gatherings outside of work and how often they are. Also, ask if it’s okay to not attend all of them for any reason (and not just for emergencies).
Your first job teaches you a lot about the working world and about yourself. If I had asked these questions when interviewing for my first job, I would have been happier. How do I know that? Because I asked them when interviewing for my second, and I couldn’t feel more fulfilled.
By day, Lily works in business development for an online marketplace. By night, Lily lives an entrepreneurial life. After working as a Career Consultant for two years at her alma mater, Scripps College, Lily developed a passion for helping women in their careers. She embodies the mantra, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” in her work as a career advisor to college students, and creative and business strategist for fellow entrepreneurs. Catch her running around Los Angeles or at lilycomba.com.
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