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Careers after college

Why “Learn Before You Earn” Is the Key to Finding the Right Job after College

Unless you’re working on a family farm, chances are that even if you love your job, you’re still working, at least partially, to get paid. After all, if work wasn’t about making money, you'd probably be sitting on a beach sipping margaritas, not waking up to an alarm clock five days a week. 

There’s a common misconception from recent graduates that, when launching their careers after college, the job that pays the most is the best one. It’s understandable why; you’re taking your first step into real adulthood. The pressure of student loans and paying rent might make you eager for the opportunity with the biggest paycheck.

Here at Vocate, we understand how you might feel, but we're here to tell you the real deal. The truth is, there’s a lot more you need to consider for your career after college long before you even look at the salary. 

Why the Best Paying Job Doesn’t Always Equal the Best Job

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare, right?

It’s where the expression “slow and steady wins the race” originates. That same basic principle applies to your career after college. It may feel ridiculous to turn away more money from one company and accept a lesser offer from another, but remember this: 

You have your whole career to make a big paycheck. 

However, the opportunity to learn typically deteriorates as you step up in your career. 

That’s because if you’re doing things right, you should be learning a lot on the front end of your career, and then teaching others as you progress into bigger and bigger roles. You’ll always be learning, always getting better, but as you advance your career, there’s more of an expectation that you’ll be coming to the table with knowledge and experience. 

That's exactly why you need to learn as much as you can early on in your career. Money might be flashy enough to catch your eye, but it’s important to dig deeper into opportunities to figure out the non-monetary value of the job. 

How to Find the Right Job for Your Career After College

It can often be tough for recent graduates to identify the hidden value in a job opportunity. Salaries are pretty cut-and-dried; you know exactly what you’re getting. Other job benefits – like learning opportunity, growth potential, and mentorship – might be more difficult to point out during an interview process. 

That said, every potential employer will open the floor to questions at some point in the interview process. That’s when you need to drill into the job to find those nuggets of opportunity. Here are some questions you can ask to uncover what the company has to offer:

  • Have you ever hired someone directly out of college before?
  • If so, did they progress from their entry-level position at your company?
  • What does employee onboarding look like?
  • Do you have any continuous training programs for entry-level employees?
  • Is there an established mentor program? 
  • If so, how long am I partnered with that mentor?
  • What would my career path at the company look like from this role?

Your goal should be to figure out whether or not the company has an established program for helping you learn and succeed. Plenty of companies are interested in hiring entry-level talent, but that doesn’t mean all of them are set up to deliver a great career learning experience for you. 

Be wary of accepting an offer from any company where training and education seem disorganized or unstructured. Of course, many small startups might not have dedicated training teams established, but there should be a clear plan for helping you ramp into your role and continue to learn. 

A quality mentor program can help you quickly accelerate the early stages of your career.

Don’t Hesitate to Be Transparent About What You Want

You might feel a bit weird laying out your goals for your first job during an interview process. But the truth is, that confidence has a few big benefits:

  1. It saves everyone’s time. There’s no sense in trudging your way through an interview process for a role you know you most certainly will not accept. Ask about what’s important early; that way you don’t waste your or the company’s time.
  2. It shows you have a growth mindset. The Vocate blog recently covered why a growth mindset is the best asset for finding a job after college. In short, companies want to hire people with an eye for the future. Startups and large corporations alike need fresh talent with the mindset to never stop learning and evolving. By asking the right questions and being transparent about what you’re looking for in an opportunity, you’re likely to impress companies that want entry-level talent with a growth mindset. 
  3. It can impact the future of the company. Maybe the company won’t have everything you’re looking for at the moment, but if enough demand exists, you can bet the company will reflect on whether to make adjustments. You can have a direct impact on the company’s future training and education program (which will undoubtedly be a great thing for future graduates).


Of course, you may find yourself in a position where the best opportunity is also one that pays pretty well. The idea isn’t to shy away from money, just to not make it the central focus of your job search. Remember, you have your whole career to make a big paycheck. 

When it comes to launching your career on the right foot, check out Vocate. With thousands of companies hunting for recent graduates to fill entry-level jobs across all fields and career interests, Vocate should be your go-to source for finding your first job after college.

The best part? You complete one application. That’s it. Create a profile and start seeing requests come in from companies interested in an interview. Try Vocate today. It’s 100 percent free to sign up!

Zack Andresen

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