Dana WilsonDon’t be seduced by a high-paying job offer.

Newly minted college grads make the mistake of jumping at any company dangling a high salary and attractive benefits package.

Compared with a decade ago, colleges are more diligent about preparing grads for the real world, but they still fall short when it comes to teaching them how to assess job offers so they make smart decisions.

Despite what college placement counsellors say about the care and attention placed upon finding grads great jobs in a desired field, they’re still more concerned with getting them jobs so the schools’ placement rate looks good. It’s very impressive when a school can boast that its placement rate exceeds 90 percent.

What college career specialists don’t teach graduates is the importance of evaluating first job offers so they lay the foundation for building a career. Even students with some work experience have limited knowledge of the vast job universe awaiting them.

Whatever industry sector you’re considering, target jobs at established companies rather than underfunded startup ventures.  By the same token, don’t pick just any established company. Many large companies, for example, will file you away in a cubicle with dozens of other techies doing grunt work eight hours a day. Before you know it, you’re a forgotten cog in the corporate machinery. Unless you’re a superstar or a brilliant or outrageous overachiever, it could be years before you get noticed.

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Instead, consider companies that are intent on recognizing and developing talent.  When starting, you want to be put in a department where you get assigned to good projects and where you work closely with senior employees who can guide you. Consider companies that seem sincerely interested, rather than ones that feed you a string of cliches, such as, “We’re all about developing people rather than product.”

Be wary of companies that overplay their mentoring programs. A progressive company will encourage managers to develop new talent any way they can, rather than put too much stock in formal programs. Mentoring has risen more from demand than from vision. Companies are fast realizing that there is no formula for grooming talented workers. Often, it’s as basic as giving strong prospects more responsibilities and incentives to do good work.

And don’t be lured by fancy job titles. Job titles are ambiguous and ultimately meaningless. More important is finding out precisely what you’re going to be doing five days a week.

The only way to find out whether the company you’re considering is an aggressive thoroughbred is by asking intelligent questions, such as: “How do you develop talented workers?” and “Do you have a formal program to accomplish that end?”; “How do you get employees up to speed?”; “Where do you expect me to be in a year, and how do you expect me to get there?”; and “What is your policy for moving around the company?”

Even go as far as to speak to the managers and associates you’ll be working with closely. They’re more likely to tell you what the job is really like and what your prospects are.

Ideally, a first job should have structure, discipline and opportunity. You’re not likely to find these conditions at an out-of-the-gate startup company, which is treading water to stay afloat. You might have a decent salary and get to work on interesting projects, but it also may be a seat-of-the-pants operation that may not be around next month. You also can count on working 70-hour weeks.

Don’t be lazy about researching companies. When considering a job, check out the company on every website you can find.   Finally, follow recruitment ads closely. A solid and established company spends a lot of money on recruitment campaigns. It’s very specific about its job openings and the kind of people it’s looking for to fill them. It also includes a lot of information about the company.

The amount of money spent on recruitment advertising tells you a lot about a company and the kinds of job opportunities it offers. Established companies know that whatever they spend on recruitment ads, they’ll get back a hundredfold when they hire top people. One of those people could be you.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the authors’ alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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