What I wish I knew before I started working
High expectations ruin the experience. I wish I realized that I wouldn’t love my work. The constant response from my dad of “That’s why they pay you” when I relate work problems is just irritating. I’d heard or read gazillions of inspirational stories about people who loved their work. Looking back these weren’t candid accounts (keynotes always skew positive) and there were from older people. The attitudes about jobs when they came of age didn’t revolve around finding your passion and loving your work. What I didn’t realize is that it is much easier to love your job when you’re not expecting to love your job. Oh. Also, these stories were notable because most people don’t love their jobs.
Day to day tasks matter more than cool projects. I wish I had paid more attention to the day to day tasks when I was interviewing. Right out of school I thought I had landed by dream job. OMG, I was going to be working on an unmanned aircraft. Giant flying robots! Awesome! I’m an electrical engineer, so that might be more exciting to me than to you. Unfortunately I quickly realize that my day to day tasks were in no way connected to giant flying robots. Whoops. I could have been working on any plane. Double whoops. AND I wasn’t even working in a technical area. Triple whoops.
We’re all just people. When I was in school I somehow got the idea that a true professional has perfected the art of removing emotion and sticking just to the work, just to the facts. In a word: sterile. I’ve since realized that couldn’t be further from the truth. The most professional people I know are those who are able to convey their emotions in a civil way, connect others (which requires getting to know people), and mixing in some fun to keep everyone engaged.
Priceless advice I put into practice.
Join a female oriented professional organization in your field. During parent’s weekend – a preview for student who had been accepted and their parents – at Cal Poly, SLO there was a panel of women engineers. I was ambivalent, but my mom insisted we go. Thanks to this panel and my mom’s continuing encouragement I joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and was involved as everything from secretary to VP while in college. Invaluable. In fact the rest of this post is all advice gained through SWE.
For the men: this advice is for you too. Cal Poly’s SWE male membership was about 20% and we often had a man on our officer team. If all the women make you nervous, try and get this advice elsewhere. Attend those lame sounding sessions put on by the career center. Check out JobSTART101, they seem to have a good thing going. Join the technical oriented professional group associated with your major. I also benefited tremendously from being a part of IEEE and the robotics club.
Negotiation is expected. People who don’t negotiate on their first job offer are losing out for their lifetime. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true. You have to make a major reset later on to make up that salary. There is the cost of living increase at any major company – done as a percentage. If you’re switching jobs, most companies will give you a 10-15% bump when you start with them. You have to be a very good negotiator to successfully argue that your 10-15% bump should be based on what your salary could have been. Most people don’t want the fight – you’re getting a huge raise anyway, right? Take the easy way out and negotiate on that first offer! I did and despite being scary as all get out it made me feel awesome afterwards.
Interview the company while they are interviewing you. Not only does this make you a more attractive candidate, but you have a lot more information when you have to decide which job offer you’re ultimately going to accept. What are your priorities? Good education program so you can keep growing your skills or go back for that masters degree? Family friendly policies? Vacation days? Mentoring program?
Speaking of which… do you know what YOUR priorities are? Not your older sister / brother, not your parents, not your best friends, not that person you always admired for awesome choices in school. No. Yours. Get on that…
Wait, what about feminism?
I might have said that I wish I knew what feminism really was about. That sexism was more real than I’d ever considered. I didn’t say that because I knew to negotiate and I knew how to present myself as confident (aka Fake it till you make it!). Thanks to my involvement with SWE I’d gotten a lot of advice on how to interview well, how to work a career fair, and developed a killer elevator speech. My ability to get internships and alter a job didn’t suffer from my lame-o version of feminism. It wasn’t until later that morale on the job became a problem.
Feminism is a process. It’s a process of learning about yourself, how you are influenced by society, and how you influence others. I wasn’t ready to be the kind of feminist I am today.