Your first job out of college really matters. Who you meet, what you learn, and what you accomplish in those first years will go a long way toward determining how the rest of your career unfolds.

But what should you look for? A company with a strong brand to anchor your resume? An opportunity to work with the latest technology? Maybe you should focus on company culture and work environment? I often speak with students considering these questions and find myself coming back to the same three tips.

1. Prioritize Learning

My first tip is to rank openings based on your learning opportunity. At the beginning of your career, the most valuable thing is to learn what you enjoy, discover your strengths, and build a resume that will open doors down the road. I’d ask the following questions:

  • Does the role provide broad exposure to working with different languages, platforms, and products?
  • Will you have the opportunity to work across a full product? Or will your exposure be isolated to one area of the codebase?
  • Will you have a mentor assigned to you? Will they meet with you frequently?
  • Does the team have a strong culture of helping each other learn? Do they sit together? Do they pair?
  • Will you participate in deciding what tools your team uses? How they prioritize work? Will you be thinking about how the software is tested and deployed?
  • What resources will be available to help you learn outside your daily tasks?

2. Look for Engagement

You’ll learn and accomplish a whole lot more with a team that’s excited to come in to work each day. You’ll also build stronger relationships and have a lot more fun. So how can you tell if a team is truly excited about their work? Look for the following:

  • How do they test their code? A team that cares about doing their best work will be deeply invested in quality and efficiency.
  • What do they think of their clients? Look for excitement around creating real value for end users.
  • Is the team proud of their company’s direction and their contribution to the community? Can they talk about these things in a convincing way?

3. Listen for Authenticity

Sometimes companies can advertise a great culture but live a different one. How can you tell if the day-to-day situation matches the copy on the website? I’d check for a few things:

  • Is the company interviewing you as a whole person? Or are they validating your skillset? A great company will care deeply about how well your values match theirs and how much you’ll enjoy their environment. They’ll care about who you are, not just what you can do.
  • Can your interviewers name the company’s values? Can they give examples of living them out in their work?
  • Ask your interviewers whether they ever spend time with coworkers outside the office. Great cultures build friendships, and those will often spill outside the nine-to-five.

I hope these tips help! And I hope you find a wonderful first job where your work matters, where you’ll learn a ton, and where you’ll build relationships that last throughout your career.

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