Getting Your First Job For Dummies
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When you're applying for a job, you need to stay organized! Keep track of the jobs you've applied and when you applied. When you get your first job offer, you may be tempted to grab it! But first, you need to evaluate the offer and make sure it's a good one. Finally, job hunters are targets of online scammers, so you need to know what to look for to avoid getting taken.

Keeping Track of the Jobs You've Applied For

Don’t put your eggs in one basket when looking for your first job. Apply to as many good jobs as you can find! And when you do, make sure you track your applications so you can remember where you’ve applied and to follow up with the employers.

One easy way to do this is to create a list of places where you’ve applied along with the following information:

  • Employer name
  • Job title: This is important, particularly if you apply to more than one job at the same organization, or if you’re applying for different kinds of jobs at lots of organizations.
  • Job URL: It’s important to write down the URL so if you receive a phone screen as the first step in the hiring process, you can quickly reference the job description and talk about how your skills align.
  • Application date: Always follow up with the employer if you haven’t heard from them in two weeks or more.
  • How you applied: Keep track of how you applied, whether it was through the employer’s website, via a job site, or in person. You may need to reference this information if the employer needs to locate your application.
  • Contact: If you have a contact within the organization who can help ensure your application gets seen, make note of it.
  • Notes: These are more for your benefit, so you can keep track of any special circumstances around any of your applications.

You can put this in a spreadsheet if you like working with Microsoft Excel, or just list it in a Google Doc or even a notebook — whatever works for you! This simple exercise will help you stay on top of where you’ve applied and ensure you do the necessary follow-up.

Evaluating Your First Job Offer

When you get a job offer, you need to evaluate it to see if it’s right for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself about each offer you get. If you get multiple offers at the same time, you can compare them side by side, decide which factors are important to you, and choose the best package.

  • What is my total cash compensation? Look not only at your base salary but also any potential bonuses you may receive. If you’re confident you’ll earn your bonuses and you have a good idea of how likely it is that the employer will pay out bonuses, factor this in to your cash compensation and total them up.
  • What percentage of employees earn their bonus? This is a great question to ask a potential employer to get an idea of how realistic it is that you’ll actually earn your bonus. This question applies to annual or quarlerly bonuses and to individual and company-wide bonuses, too. If you want to calculate your expected bonus, multiply your potential bonus payout times the percentage probability of getting the bonus. For example, if you can earn an annual bonus of $10,000 and people earn it half the time, then multiply the $10,000 times 50 percent to get an expected bonus of $5,000.
  • What are the retirement benefits? It’s never too soon to start thinking about retirement or saving money. If your employer offers a 401(k) or similar plan, this can help you save at a faster rate by stashing away pre-tax dollars. Many employers also provide matching, which is as good as cash that you can use upon retirement.
  • Does the employer offer stock or stock options? Stock in a public company is usually as good as cash, and it has the potential to grow in value. Factor in this perk if you’re offered stock. Stock options in a private company are harder to value. In most cases, they end up being worth nothing, and in other instances, they can be worth a lot of money.
  • Do I get health benefits? If so, how much are they and what is the deductible? Employers often offer health insurance coupled with vision and dental benefits. Even if you’re a healthy individual, it’s good to have insurance. You never know when you’ll need it. If you have a spouse or family, employer-provided health insurance may cost you less than getting it on your own. Find out what’s covered and how much you need to pay each month for yourself and your family. Employers often make employees pay a portion of the monthly health insurance premium. You should also know the annual deductible (how much you have to pay out of pocket before the insurance starts kicking in). If your deductible is zero, this is ideal because it means your insurance starts covering expenses as soon as you’re insured. On the other hand, if your deductible is, say, $5,000, you need to pay for the first $5,000 of medical expenses out of pocket before your insurance starts covering medical costs.
  • Will I have work–life balance and flexibility? New job seekers see this as a huge benefit. Being able to work from home one day a week may be a valuable perk for you. The same goes for vacation or paid time off (PTO). If you value your time, assign the appropriate value to this benefit. Company culture is also important. Does the employer foster a cutthroat work environment or one that nurtures its employees?
  • What makes the employer unique? An employer’s brand name can add to your résumé and help you get a better job down the line. Do they offer training? These are factors that can are also valuable and can outweigh any cash compensation.

You can create a spreadsheet listing each offer you’ve received, starting with the employer name and then for each column, adding a benefit that’s important to you as shown in the figure. You can assign a weight to each perk, and then total the points, to see which offer comes out on top.

How to Identify Scams When Looking for a Job

As you search for your first job, you may encounter an opportunity that sounds too good to be true or just doesn’t sit well with you. The Internet is full of scams, and unfortunately, you may encounter a few of these fraudulent schemes during your search. Here are a few signs that will help you identify potential fraud:

  • The company has no website or the website is “under construction.” Almost every business has a website, and any employer, no matter how new, should have one. Unless you know the employer is legitimate, be cautious of any organization that doesn’t have a website or that has a site “under construction.” If the employer has the time and energy to start hiring, it should also have the time to create an online presence.
  • The company’s website looks fake. The employer may have a website, but it looks fake. It may be nice looking and professionally designed, but it uses a lot of stock photography of professional-looking people smiling, shaking hands, and sitting in meetings. If you get a bad feeling about the employer even after you go to their website, your suspicions may be right.
  • The employer’s message is vague. What is the organization’s mission and what do they do? This shouldn’t be hard to gather from looking at the employer’s website or looking at their materials. For example, if a company’s website says something along the lines of “We help business evolve to the next level” or “We help you achieve your potential,” be wary. This doesn’t tell you anything about what the company does or how they do it.
  • There is no company email address. It’s common for recruiters to use a Gmail address. Many startups do this, too, as they’re getting off the ground. A Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo! email address on its own is not a bad sign. But combined with one or more other signs, it should give you pause.
  • You’re asked to pay. You don’t need to pay to apply for a job. Be very careful if someone asks you to send money, to pay to apply for a job, or to pay for an introductory course or a welcome kit as part of the application process. This is not a job. Instead, you’re being taken advantage of. You have talent, know-how, and energy that you’ll bring to a potential employer. They should be paying you — not the other way around. Never send money to a potential employer. This is a big red flag.
  • The job is commission only. Commission-only jobs are not uncommon. Employers often hire salespeople to work as contractors on a pure commission basis. If you’re good at sales, you may end up making good money through commissions. But by paying only commission, the employer is putting all the risk on you and they’re taking no risk themselves. If you end up doing well, you can do well. On the other hand, if you don’t sell anything, you will have wasted your time, energy, and potentially cash if you need to pay for gas to drive from one place to another. Before you take a commission-only job, do your research and find out how other individuals typically perform in this role. If you can talk to other people who’ve done the job, that’s even better.
  • The company address doesn’t match the phone’s location. This isn’t always a bad thing. More and more employers allow people to work from home, and the employer’s address may not match the area code of the person with whom you’re in contact. However, if you notice this and you have doubts already based on other red flags, you may want to think twice about pursuing the opportunity.
  • The phone numbers are always different. Another common flag is when the recruiter calls you from a different number each time or uses an anonymous caller ID.
  • Your gut says no. You need to trust your instincts. If an opportunity just doesn’t sit well with you, trust your gut. The right opportunity will eventually come.

Any of these signs on their own don’t necessarily mean that the opportunity in question is a scam. But a few of these combined do point to potential fraud. Ultimately, your best defense is your gut instinct. If an opportunity just doesn’t look legitimate, you’re better off passing it up and moving on.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Roberto Angulo cofounded AfterCollege, the largest online marketplace in the U.S. where college students and employers can connect. He collaborated with the Obama Administration on the launch of Summer Jobs+, which successfully created more summer opportunities for youth ages 16?24. He is also cofounder of, a STEM mentorship program.

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