career planning, college graduates, meaningful work

Thriving in Your First Job, Part 2

Last time I shared the first step to being engaged and fulfilled in your job: Understand why you accept an offer. Is it the money, the location, the skills you’d learned? Perhaps it’s the growth potential or work-life balance. These factors can make or break an opportunity. While I framed the context for young professionals, the advice applies whether it’s your first or tenth job. Being clear about your priorities allows you to better chart your course.

That said, despite your best intentions and well-informed plans…

Understand that it may not work out.
Reality may not align with your expectations for various reasons. Here are some common themes:

  1. Job responsibilities. The actual role may not reflect the advertised job 100%. Less desirable aspects may have been overlooked or downplayed during recruitment. A physician once shared: “You must do your job in order to do your work.” His work was to treat patients; his job involves tedious paperwork. Make no mistake, every job has unwanted duties. But if the discrepancy between reality and expectations is too great, one may reconsider whether the position is the right fit.
  2. Company culture. It’s difficult to assess an organization’s culture from the interview process. There’s often misalignment between how a company presents itself—its mission, vision, values; its claims of an innovative and collaborative spirit; its open floor plan and wellness activities—and how it functions on a day-to-day basis. As I’ve said, many job seekers are “easily dazzled” by what they see. When it comes to company culture, your first impression is seldom accurate.
  3. Changing company needs. In our modern business world, change is the only constant. Industries are being disrupted. Jobs are being automated. Legacy organizations are reinventing themselves, lest they become obsolete. Your job might be ideal at the start. Yet it could quickly head south with a change in management, a round of layoffs, or a number of other reasons.

    On the other hand, what you expect may never play out. I once joined a startup where, as the company grew, I was to become a Business Development Manager. In my three years there, I never held that title. New positions were created for me instead. Did they deceive me? No. Market conditions changed, new opportunities opened up, and the company responded.

  4. Your own changing needs. Life happens. You may buy a house, get married, or have kids, and suddenly your perfect job isn’t so perfect anymore. You find yourself wanting higher pay or a more flexible schedule. Or you grow weary of traveling, and climbing the ladder is no longer a priority. Even though nothing about the job had changed, it no longer satisfies your needs.

So when you accept a job offer, understand why you’re taking it—then remember that it may not turn out the way you envision.

Hold the future with open hands. While this doesn’t prevent disappointments, it keeps you from being caught off guard, flustered, frustrated, stuck. It replaces your need for control with a sense of efficacy, knowing you can maneuver through any circumstance. When you encounter a setback, assess the situation to learn what you can. Then redirect your momentum toward the next best move. Be agile and thrive.