I had my dream job once. I worked at a small company where I could utilize my skills and interests from both my college major and minor. I was located in a lively downtown area, a short walk from my apartment. There were no cubicles. Instead, the company embraced an open-office floor plan. I was given projects and responsibility right away. Free peanut butter sandwiches were available to all employees. I had good benefits and three weeks of vacation. It was great.
Except that I hated it.
Looking back, I see I was easily caught up in the bells and whistles companies implement to attract Generation Y workers, while ignoring some of the more important things. Here are some things to look out for:
1) Know the difference between a visionary leader and a good manager. A visionary person will easily sweep you off your feet with their grand ideas, but they can often be a difficult person to work for. People with just a vision will want things a certain way – without explaining how to get there – instead of giving you the autonomy, trust and guidance to do well in your position. Listen carefully to how your coworkers describe working for your boss. It will reveal a lot early on.
2) Money does matter. My first salary was hardly anything to wipe the floor with, let alone live on, but I was passionate about the job so I thought it was okay. It wasn’t. When you start a job, make sure you’re at least negotiating enough to live on, because the truly rich have both – money and passion. Money may not seem important, but it is likely to become a source of resentment later on when you expect to be rewarded for your hard work.
3) Be grateful for your office, if you have one. While open offices seem to provide a space for maximum collaboration, sometimes it’s nice to be able to shut the door. There are times you will need privacy and you’ll work better if you have it. If your workplace has an open office plan, find out if there is a private area you can use.
4) Make sure you have the flexibility and freedom to get the job done. The company I worked for said they endorsed flexible schedules to allow for the ability to go to a doctor’s appointment, attend networking events, and have lunch with a friend if needed. And I had three weeks of vacation; it said so in my contract. But I was never made to feel it was acceptable to use these benefits. I was stuck recording every minute of work, and might as well have been punching a time card for the amount of rigidity in my schedule. Moreover, I was told if I wanted to make it big, I needed to be prepared to work insane hours after work, otherwise, I wasn’t committed enough.
Make sure your employer walks the talk. Will you be expected to come in at 9:00 am every day or will you have more flexibility? What is the policy if you have outside commitments? Is there an “it will all even out” or “you must make up every minute” mentality? Will you have to dress up every day or can you wear jeans when you don’t have meetings?
Seemingly insignificant, these personal freedoms will become increasingly important the more you take on inside and outside of work.
5) Be weary of turnover. Within a few months of my start date, all of my co-workers announced plans to leave. I thought it was just a natural progression, but since I left, the company has since experienced a similar turnover. Yes, millennials are known to be job-hoppers, but only because we are searching for the right position. Companies with the lowest turnover are usually ranked among the best. That means if the faces at a company keep changing, take it as a bright red flashing signal to get the heck out of there.
In choosing a position, look beyond the typical things companies do to attract millennials to determine if the culture is right for you. Most importantly, know yourself. Only you know how you like to work best.