12 Things to Ponder Before Taking Your First Job

12 Things to Ponder Before Taking Your First Job
By Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com Writer

Finding your first job is easy. You send in your résumé for a position to which no one else is applying. You get a call back right away, have a successful interview (during which you are promptly offered the job) and of course you're offered the salary to last a lifetime. Nothin' to it.

Dream on.

A more likely scenario might look something like this: You send out multiple copies of yourrésumé to several different positions that have hundreds of other applicants. Maybe (if you're lucky) you'll hear back from five employers. Of those five, you might get two or three interviews, none of which will go as seamlessly as you think. After waiting several weeks in career purgatory, you may or may not get an offer for a job that is closer to a nightmare than a dream and that pays just enough to foot the bills.

"Although the job market is a little shaky right now, recent grads don't want to settle, either," says Kristen Fischer, author of "Ramen Noodles, Rent and Résumé." "Many recent graduates feel like taking a job is a life or death decision. While every job will impact their career, they have to remember that a first job is a steppingstone. Chances are that it won't be an ideal situation or their dream job, but it can provide the foundation for a fulfilling career."

To avoid landing in a position that's not for you, here are 12 pieces of advice to consider about the job hunting process before you accept your first job.

1. Consider reasonable expectations for an entry-level salary

Research your desired industry and the jobs you're interested in within that sector. Use Web sites such as cbSalary.com to find the average salary for the job you want, in the location you're looking for work. Use that knowledge when deciding if a salary offer will be enough to pay the bills.

2. Weigh the entire benefits package

"A salary offer is only one part of the compensation package," says Dwayne Keiffer, assistant director of career development at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. Evaluate the entire benefits package. Does the company provide insurance? Will it contribute to a 401(k) plan? How much vacation do employees receive?

3. Reflect on company quality

Job content and the quality of the organization you're going to work for should take a back seat to most other things, says Shawn Graham, author of "Courting Your Career." After all, you want the job that gives you the most options for your next career move. Compare job content, fit within the job and organization's culture, opportunities for advancement and compensation before saying "yes."

4. Job satisfaction is more important than salary

Consider job satisfaction as well as salary, suggests Rachelle Canter, author of "Make the Right Career Move." Launch yourself in a direction you want to go by considering the skills you have and enjoy using, skills you want to acquire and rewards that are meaningful to you.

5. Evaluate the employer's brand

Does a company place an emphasis on its talent? Does it engage in employee development? What reward incentives does it have in place? Are employees encouraged to participate in company decisions? All of these questions are key indicators of an employer's brand and how much a company invests in its employees, says Ed Lawler, professor of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

6. Get rid of the "shoulds"

Don't listen to what other people tell you that you should want. "Before accepting a job, make sure it's a job you want and not a job your parents want, your college counselor wants or your friends want," says Lindsey Pollak, author of "Getting from College to Career."

7. Make your decision based on your current life realities, not "what if" scenarios

"You don't have to create a fit today that will fit your life in 20 years, when you may have children or a mortgage," Pollak says. "Just be where you are today and know that managing your work and life will change many times over the course of your life."

8. Find out where former employees in that position are now

Training and development is the most important thing about a first job because it's the springboard for your career.

"Your prospective boss's record for having his employees promoted to good positions both inside and outside the company is a key indicator of how good that person is at developing his people," says Lee Miller, managing director of YourCareerDoctors.com.

9. Consider job location

"Would you rather have a good job in a great location or a great job somewhere you're not so crazy about?" asks JillXan Donnelly, president of the Career Exposure Network. If location, culture and way of life are important to you, consider taking your second or third job choice if the location appeals to you more.

10. Know what you're looking for

"Despite the fact that you've invested a lot of time and effort ? not to mention money ? into getting your degree, far too many of us don't really know what we want to do after graduation and we're hoping we'll just figure it out along the way," says Elizabeth Freedman, author of "Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself."

You don't need your whole life planned out, but at least have an idea of what you want to do so you don't waste time and energy applying to jobs you don't really want.

11. Don't underestimate the power of networking

"If location, location, location is the slogan for real estate, then networking, networking, networking is the mantra for career development and landing full-time jobs," says Bill McCarthy, associate director of Binghamton University's career development center in Binghamton, N.Y. Don't wait until you need a job to utilize your network, he says. Most openings are filled through word of mouth and referrals, so keep in touch.

12. Finding a job is a job in itself

"It can take months to find a job and for many people, finding a job is a job in itself," says Amy Diepenbrock, director of career services at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. "Most of the time, students think that by stating that they will take any job, in any company, that their chances are increased. In reality, this hurts their candidacy because employers want to hire individuals who know what they want to do, understand how they can impact the organization and who display an interest in their specific position and organization."

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.