Soon you will enter the labor force, but do you know what you really want from a job before you begin to interview? Given the current market you could become malemployed (a mismatch between a realworld job and your skill set). About half of all college graduates 25 and under are either malemployed in jobs that do not require a college degree or are not working (Lehrer, 2010). Whether you achieve your dream job, become malemployed, or obtain something in between, try to enter the labor force "eyes open” to the importance of those characteristics and conditions that serve simultaneously as your goals and the architecture of your employment.
One of the many work-related surveys performed by the Michigan State University Collegiate Employment Research Institute identified "Important Characteristics of Early Career Jobs: What Do Young Adults Want?” (Chao and Gardner, 2007). The MonsterTRAK organization surveyed over 9000 young adults (ages 18 to 25), 2400 older adults, and over 400 recruiters to answer the question contained in the report’s title. You can explore this fascinating report at http://www.ceri.msu.edu/publications/pdf/JobChar4-16.pdf and learn how responses compare according to gender, race, academic programs, parents’ income, age groups, and (very important) to those of recruiters. The top 6 of 15 common job characteristics and the percentage of respondents who rated them as important are presented below.
Rank-ordered in preference, the other characteristics include annual vacations of a week or more, high income, flexibility in work hours, regular hours (no nights/ weekends), being able to work independently, limited job stress, travel opportunities, prestige of the company, and limited overtime. Chao and Gardner observe that the first five characteristics (and I include the sixth) are related to long-term career success and are important in a job search. Also, notice the drop in importance between opportunities to learn new skills (77%) and location (63%) and the rank of high income. Space allows me to explore only the first two characteristics, but you could generate a productive discussion of this survey at your next Psi Chi meeting, with your advisor or career counselor, or perhaps in one of your courses.
The Basics of Benefits
I begin with the second most important characteristic because most students know little about employee benefits. Over coffee at a local bookstore, I learned a lot about benefits from Cynthia, a former student and a project coordinator at a prominent international human resources and benefits outsourcing organization. Below are five key questions she believes you should ask yourself regarding employee benefits when you consider a job opportunity.
1. If I need health insurance, what coverage do I need? Medical? Dental? Vision? Life insurance? Disability?
2. If there are different options, such as PPO versus HMO medical plans, how do I choose? You must do your homework!
3. How much will the insurance I need (and/or want) cost? Some benefits deductions are taken pre-tax (costing you less from your paycheck) versus posttax. When evaluating a job offer, consider this as part of your total compensation (salary plus other fringe benefits such as health insurance, paid time off, and retirement benefits like a 401k).
4. How much time off is available? (e.g., vacation, sick, personal days, paid company holidays). You will discover that your time off is a major switch from college with its built-in summer and winter breaks. Now you will have to accrue vacation time and budget it throughout the year.
5. Retirement benefits? Yes, you are young and have student loans to repay, so why should you set aside money for retirement you cannot access? There are many reasons but a good heuristic is: If you have the opportunity for a company match, contribute the minimum amount to a 401k to begin your retirement plan, and the company’s match will boost your full earnings potential.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
The words of sixties singer-songwriter Bob Dylan definitely apply to the changing nature of work, including employee benefits. Some organizations provide a variety ("cafeteria”) of benefits such as those mentioned above and more. Companies with limited employee benefits should cause you to scrutinize a job offer carefully. For example, which job is the better choice: a) one that pays a good salary but has limited benefits or b) a job with a salary lower than you seek but accompanied by a solid health care policy that saves insurance costs you would incur if you accepted the higher paying job? The globalization of jobs, the recession, and other factors have led many organizations to drastically reduce employee benefits in recent years; some of the options posed above might not be available in certain organizations. Nowadays, only 15% of private-sector workers have a pension plan that guarantees steady income during retirement. Clouding the benefits picture is the 2010 National Health Care Act. Some sections do not take effect until 2014; other sections are contentious for some members of Congress.
Three Steps to Become Better Informed
1. Speak with your family about the kinds of insurance coverage they have; get their advice and find out if their coverage may be available to protect you as you begin your first "real” job.
2. Entering the terms "employee benefits” or "job benefits” on Google will reveal several websites that provide a working knowledge of this topic (I am not recommending specific websites).
3. Job interviews are conducted differently in different organizations. You may be able to learn about a company’s benefits from their website or you may ask about them at the end of an interview. Cynthia recommends, however, job seekers should not inquire about or negotiate pay until a job offer is made because different company representatives, such as recruiters versus job managers, may be responsible for different aspects of the hiring process.
What Kinds of Work Excite You?
The highest rated job characteristic in the survey was interesting and engaging work. When was the last time you asked yourself, What specific kinds of work and activities interest me, engage me, make me ignore the clock, motivate me? Do I prefer to work primarily with people, ideas, or hands-on activities; with teams or working independently? Do I prefer analysis and intellectual challenge to organizational and implementation challenges? How important are concrete feedback, recognition for work well done, and a continuous learning challenge? What are my specific skills and how can I apply them? Similar questions should be explored systematically through your school’s career planning center and linked to potential jobs and careers.
How can you learn about activities that can engage your interests? When I asked a successful investment executive recently what he thought was most important for college students to do in preparation for the workplace, he responded: "Be active. Get involved.” Echoing this advice, Cynthia recommends you get involved in whatever activities you can to identify those that interest you and use your skills. She emphasizes that internships and the experience of working with others in teams are an essential part of workplace preparation. Look back on your part-time job experiences to learn what you want and do not want in a full-time position.
Assign yourself (and ask a friend to join you) the task of comparing your answers with those contained in the Chao and Gardner survey to answer the question: What do I really want in my early career jobs? But also ask: What can I realistically expect to achieve in my first couple jobs as I enter a highly competitive job market as a workplace freshman where I must be flexible and adaptable and where uncertainty is the norm? This "capstone” assignment can enable you to integrate insights about yourself that you gain from coursework, part-time jobs, cocurricular and volunteer activities, and other experiences. Let me phrase this assignment another way. If Socrates were your career counselor, he might admonish you in a tone of frustration: "How many times have I said you must know yourself? Soon your education will guide your job search, and you don’t even know what you want in your first full-time job!”
Chao, G. T., & Gardner, P. D. (2007). Important characteristics of early career jobs: What do Young adults want? Michigan State University, Collegiate Employment Research Institute. Retrieved from http://www.ceri.msu.edu/publications/pdf/JobChar4-16.pdf
Lehrer, J. (Dec. 3, 2010). Dog-walkers to dominatrices: Many college grads face ‘Malemployment.’ PBS Newshour. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/july-dec10/graduates_12-03.htm