Entering the working world after college is one of the biggest transitions a person makes in their life. It’s difficult to imagine doing anything except going to school after nearly two decades of structured learning. Because this is such a huge leap, it’s important to be prepared for the transition so that your first job doesn’t take advantage of you.
This is easier said than done. There are innumerable opportunities post-graduation, but college students often settle for one of the first things that come their way. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the first job that you find could be wonderful. However, this can also lead graduates to work for an exploitative company.
Recent college graduates are an easy demographic to hire. They will settle for lower salaries, less flexibility and larger workloads. Most graduates have never worked a full-time job in their industry before, so they don’t always know what boundaries to draw with their employer. This creates an abusive relationship between the company and employee that the graduate may not even recognize.
For example, a company should never ask you to work hours that you aren’t paid. Yet, this is a reality that countless graduates face. I know someone who graduated from the University of Kansas began working at a startup advertising agency right out of college. The fast-paced environment was exciting, and she was working with over nine clients at a time.
This led to her working 50 to 60 hours a week. Despite this, her managers began to demand more from her. The work she could produce in 50 to 60 hours became the standard, so she had to work 65 hours to impress her bosses — then 70 hours. For the entire time, she was only being paid for 40 hours a week.
Most college students would recognize that this is an unhealthy work dynamic, but how can you avoid a situation like this? A lot of it comes down to research and instincts. If you do research on a job before you interview, you can likely gauge what kind of working environment it might be. In an interview, your instincts and questions can give you valuable information on what the company culture is like.
However, where are graduates supposed to learn skills to navigate the real world correctly and avoid being exploited by employers? Students pay thousands of dollars for an education, so universities should do more than help students find a job post-graduation; they should implement further education on how to spot red flags in workplaces.
Professors need to spend time in class discussing workplace norms in their industry, and advisors should share previous student experiences. This kind of discussion would help students develop an idea of what they want and, more importantly, don’t want in a first job. Graduates shouldn’t have to go through abusive workplaces to learn what an undesirable employer is like.
Too many students go through several exploitative job experiences before finding a worthwhile place of employment. With further guidance pre-graduation, students can be more prepared to find a suitable first position that’s fulfilling. If everything falls into place, that first job could turn into decades of your career.