Blogger Zina Kumok shares the relocation, salary negotiation, and benefits mistakes she made at her first job—and how she turned her learnings into a successful career.
Getting my first job after college was a landmark experience in my adult life. It was exciting, fascinating, and a true confidence builder.
It was also full of mistakes and regret.
Transitioning from the comfort of college to the challenge of a new career is an exhilarating time, but it’s easy to mistake moving forward for progress.
Here are some mistakes I made that could have been avoided.
New Job Tip 1: Negotiate Your Salary
When I got my first job offer after college, I was so excited and relieved that I immediately accepted it without contemplating some essential elements—like salary. I’d been job hunting for months and had applied for almost 200 positions, so the relief of being offered full-time employment was enough to keep me from expecting more.
In the time between graduation and employment, I had spent a summer doing an unpaid internship and six weeks living with my parents. The prospect of moving into my own place thrilled me, and the low cost of living in my new town made the equally low salary I was offered seem reasonable.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized I should have negotiated my salary. Many of us are so grateful to get a job offer that we forget we have almost as much leverage as our employers.
My bosses loved me from the start—my friend had recommended me for the job, and they didn’t even ask that I come in for an interview. Holding all the cards, I had the opportunity to bet big, but I folded without realizing the potential of my position.
Thankfully, I learned my lesson, negotiated for my next job, and received a much higher salary. Now that I’m self-employed, I negotiate for almost every assignment I receive, and the benefits are significant.
New Job Tip 2: Examine the Benefits Package
It’s easy to judge a job by its salary, but there’s so much more behind that number. That’s where the real work begins.
Benefits like vacation days, sick time, insurance, and 401k add up when considering a job. These can often feel like intangibles, but they’re very real. It’s only after you’ve accepted the position that you realize what it means to have only one week of vacation.
It’s hard to even remember what my benefits package included at my first job. Like I said, my enthusiasm for employment overshadowed any logical decisions I could have made. That was my problem—I was so glad someone hired me that I never thought I was entitled to a good 401k plan or a handsome vacation policy.
New Job Tip 3: Ask for More
Part of my benefits package was a $500 moving allowance. My parents had agreed to help me move 12 hours away from where they lived. They rented a U-Haul and we filled my car.
My moving allowance was supposed to come on my first paycheck. When I got it, I realized that the $500 had been taxed and was now $150 less.
What? I knew my biweekly income would be taxed, but no one warned me that would include the moving allowance. I felt betrayed. I was a recent college graduate with $28,000 in student loans and no savings. Losing $150 to taxes was a major loss for me.
After talking to my boss and the HR director, I convinced them to repay me the extra money. That’s how I learned that no one else would speak up for my needs. If I want something, I have to be willing to get uncomfortable to get it.
New Job Tip 4: Find an Affordable Place to Live
I never visited the city where my first job was located. I’d never even been there before. When it came time to find an apartment, I relied on word-of-mouth and Google.
Thankfully, a former editor of mine reached out to people she knew in the area. With her recommendation, the apartment complex was willing to let me sign the lease and move in on the same day.
It was during that process I realized I didn’t have enough saved up for a security deposit. I spent the summer working 20 hours a week as an unpaid magazine intern, and my call center side job frequently cut shifts. When I moved home, I worked retail, but only earned about $200.
I thought about all those times when I bought take-out food or a new pair of jeans. All that money I wasted and now I didn’t even have $300 to put down on an apartment.
I remember turning to my mom to ask her for money for the security deposit. Here I was, 22 and entering the real world, totally broke. Actually, broke would have been a step up. I was in debt to the federal government, and now to my parents.
New Job Tip 5: Take What You Learned with You
Getting my first job taught me how to deal with problems by myself, how to figure out and communicate my needs, and how to make the best of every situation. From each mistake made, I learned a valuable lesson I was able to use at my next job.
Zina Kumok is a writer, speaker, and coach.
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