The graduation parties have come and gone. The flurry of activities that were initiated in the wee hours of the night while cramming for finals and culminated at the cap and gown ceremony have at last come to an end. You can almost hear the graduates and their parents exhaling and see the “We made it” glow radiating off of them.
But the obvious task at hand for the new graduates – finding paying jobs – is the ultimate reality check and undoubtedly wipes that glow off fairly quickly. Recent graduates have an estimated 8.5% unemployment rate. Unfortunately, this is more than twice the 3.9% unemployment rate that less recent graduates have experienced. While today’s graduates struggle to obtain a job, their pressures are exacerbated by growing debt. In fact, 66% of recent graduates have post-graduation debt.
I worry about the future careers of these new graduates. My concern stems from my belief that careers should not be decided in a pressure-packed environment where the new graduate has few alternatives but to say “yes” to the first extended offer of employment. After reading hundreds of papers about job satisfaction, written by soon-to-be college graduates over the last 10 years while teaching an organizational behavior course, I hope these fledgling careerists are taking the job-selection advice I have heard from my students time and again.
Below I have summarized my past students’ thoughts about what makes a job satisfying. Possibly they apply to you or to someone you know who’s currently looking for a job.
- 1. Your manager can make or break the whole thing.
Great managers are supportive – or as we say in organizational behavior – employee-centered. This is not some crazy touchy-feeling, group hug, kind of manager. It means the manager can create an environment of emotional support or warmth. Studies show that when managers care about both the people who work for them and about the work getting done, their teams have the highest productivity rates. Before saying “yes” to your job offer, be sure to assess the skills of your manager and the likelihood that you will develop a strong relationship. The better the relationship you have with your manager, the more likely you will be given additional rewards and responsibilities.
- 2. Work where you have or can make friends.
Having a good friend at work is more important than it might initially seem. Although I have experienced first-hand the direct correlation between loving my job and loving my work friends, I have just recently come around to believing my students’ advice on this issue. Very simply, having a close friend at work makes everything better. Consider having a delicious dinner alone. Now consider having that same delicious dinner with your dear friend. The exact same food somehow tastes even better with your friend there, right? The same is true in the workplace.
In fact, Gallup – the well-known research and consulting organization – has conducted research on this very topic and made the same conclusion. Gallup observed that employees who report having a best friend at work were:
- 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days.
- 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development.
- 35% more likely to report coworker commitment to quality.
- 28% more likely to report that in the last six months, someone at work has talked to them about their progress.
- 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important.
- 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work.
- 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.
Clearly, having a close friend at work helps you and the organization.
- 3. Find meaning in the work you are doing
Finding meaning in the work you are doing does not necessarily mean that you are saving lives every day or working for a non-profit. I recently read a fantastic paper by a student who found meaning in her job at a retail store. She greatly enjoyed helping customers find “just the right outfit” and she was confident that they left the store happier than they had been when they entered it. She found gratification – and meaning – from having a positive impact on the people she helped. Taking note of the positive affect you have on others at work is a simple way to find meaning in almost any job.
Another way to find meaning at work is to use your organization as a launching pad for helping others. Many organizations encourage their employees to volunteer or match fund-raising initiatives for deserving causes. In the interview process, be sure to ask your potential employer about the organization’s policy on volunteering and history of giving back to the community. These policies speak to the culture of the organization you may be joining. It’s better to know this information before you jump onboard.
We know that it pays to have a college degree. In 2010, the median earnings for young adults with bachelor’s degrees were 50 percent higher than those of their counterparts with high school diplomas. Having a well-paying job will help our new college graduates pay off their debt, but finding the right fit between the individual and the organization will help the new graduates on their journey to a fulfilling career. I wish them luck in achieving both of these outcomes.