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What Do You Want From a Full-Time Job?
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by Paul Hettich, PhD
- DePaul University (IL)
Categories: Career Preparation
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
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
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
Lehrer, J. (Dec. 3, 2010). Dog-walkers to dominatrices: Many college grads face
‘Malemployment.’ PBS Newshour.
Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL),
was an Army personnel psychologist, program evaluator in an education R&D lab, and
a corporate applied scientist—positions that created a "real world" foundation for
his career in college teaching and administration. He was inspired to coauthor Connect
College to Career: A Student Guide to Work and Life Transitions (2005) by graduates
and employers who revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations,
cultures, and practices. You can contact Paul at email@example.com
Spring 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 14), published
by Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright,
2011, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.