Career Advice

Top 3 things to look for in your first job

It can be hard to find that first job, and sometimes you need to take
whatever you can get to start your career. But whether it is your very
first job or a job search in the first five years of your career, there
are three critical things you should not settle without.

1. A great manager

Having
a great manager early on will by far create the strongest impact toward
your long-term growth. Working for someone who is talented, generous
with their time, and willing to teach you can be a powerful jumpstart.
And working for a turkey is both demotivating and a waste of your time.
Remember, for every way to do something well, there are a thousand ways
to do it badly. Every year counts early on, so partner up with a strong
leadership team, make sure that you are efficient with time and sponge
every skill possible when you are young, hungry and hopefully don’t need
much sleep. Strong management will steer you onto projects that stretch
you and teach you, and catch you when you stumble. Poor managers come
in a variety of flavors: micro managers, absentee managers, inconsistent
managers, and the list goes on, but they share one characteristic, they
deprive you of valuable learning. So pick wisely. Interview your
potential manager so you get a sense of how much they will help you
grow.

2. Growth

Just as a rising tide
floats all boats, finding a thriving environment early on will create an
opportunity for advancement. Think about the people who landed early in
companies like Google and LinkedIn. Were they any smarter than their
peers who joined loser companies? Probably not. But the diligent,
hard-working ones took advantage of the extraordinary emerging
opportunities to grow their own careers, fast. Even in modestly
flourishing/booming times, you will find that growth creates
opportunity. Early in your career, you should be alert for new tasks,
projects and be sure to volunteer and raise your hand up when companies
are searching for aggressive new talent. Take on new challenges, be a
problem solver and stretch your skill set. Stagnant companies make it
difficult to do this, so stay alert for rising tides.

3. Visibility into the business

Too
often I talk with people early in their career, and they don’t
understand the Profit and Loss principles of their company. Being able
to distinguish between decisions that help or hurt the business is
pivotal. Insist on acquiring visibility of cash flows from customer
reports, sales deals, marketing expenses and product development costs.
Looking at the cash trail of a company early on is essential to
understanding how the company makes money. Whether you are the egghead
designing a new product (which will make money), or you are the inside
sales rep selling (bringing money in) or you are the accountant working
on the P&L (watching the money) you want to see it and understand
it. That way, later in your career when you are making decisions that
directly impact the growth, profit or loss of your own company, or the
company you work for, you will have a visceral feel for how the
financials of a company actually work. And if you don’t understand basic
finance in the first 5 years of your career take classes until you do.
The knowledge is well worth giving up a few evenings for.

 Often, I
am contacted by people who want a little coaching as they start their
careers or who are looking for a change in direction. And so often I am
asked my opinion about whether they should go and get an MBA. There are
some circumstances where an MBA is worth the time and money – for
example if you want to switch from engineering to finance – but in most
cases it isn’t. It’s my belief, after managing so many talented people
both with MBAs and without, that in most cases these three things are
fundamental: a great manager, a growing company, and getting yourself
familiar with the money trail.