Monday, 3 August 2020

You've turned in that final paper and taken that last exam. As a new graduate, however, you still face another critical test: learning to stand on your own financially. The first money decisions you make over the coming weeks and months are critical steps that can shape your financial journey. When facing an uncertain economy and job market, adulthood may not look as attractive as it did four years ago. Don't worry—there's still time for you to get a plan together.

Evaluating jobs and offers

Not all money is the same. No matter how many choices you have at the moment as a new college graduate, it's important to establish what you want from your first job out of school. Prioritize the things you believe are most important to you. Sometimes beginning the process with a list of “don'ts" can be easier to do. Then move to the “must-haves and nice-to-haves."

Reflect on what you hope to learn, or what skills you wish to acquire during your first one to three years in the workforce. If a position you are offered does not allow you to meet these personal goals on the job, can you access coursework and training with your working hours along with a practical salary and benefits?

Start on the right financial foot

Salary

Plan to negotiate or make a counter to your first salary offer. Negotiating can put more money in your pocket from the start. A well-researched counter offer can also help you set up an employer-employee dynamic built on respect and confidence.

Read up on salary negotiation tactics. Do own your research and ask for the position range during the interview process. Salary reporting sites, along with social media groups specific to your industry, can also be a rich source of information on salaries.

Before accepting any offer, it's also important to understand your job performance requirements. Ask hiring managers to share their expectations for the position which you're applying for the first 90 days, six months and a year. A prospective employer should be able to communicate clearly what you need to do to get a bonus, raise or promotion.

Benefits

Some job benefits can be money in the bank. Nail down what the company provides, how much the benefit programs will cost you and when you'll be eligible to participate. Look especially for:

  • Health insurance premiums and healthcare savings accounts
  • Flexible paid leave for illness, family and vacation time
  • Retirement investing and planning
  • Stock options and profit sharing
  • Expense reimbursement for travel, training, required work equipment and devices

Relocation

If a job you're considering may require you to move, inquire about resources to relocate. You can gain a stronger financial footing earlier with employer support:

  • An advance against your first paychecks
  • A one-time predetermined payment (either upfront or after you move as a reimbursement)
  • An extensive, more flexible package of money and relocation assistance services (access to housing search professionals, movers, etc.)

The costs of getting settled in a new city can far exceed your first few paychecks. Do your due diligence to come up with an estimate of how much money you'll need to get set up. Then add a cushion for unexpected expenses, such as security deposits and installation fees for utilities or tips for movers to your budget. Be aware that many companies do not offer relocation benefits, especially for new college graduates. If this is the case for a job you want, try to build your budget needs into your salary requirements. Using personal savings or borrowing may be an option for some graduates. Consider carefully how using these choices may fit with your financial means and goals.

Quality of life

We spend our first salaries on the basics of living, so determine if the offered salary will give you the ability to:

  • Live within a reasonable and affordable commuting distance of your job
  • Survive a typical rent increase in your new city during the first two to three years on the job
  • Socialize at least occasionally outside of work

Workplace culture can affect your productivity, career track, personal well- being, and as a result, your financial picture. Don't be swayed by casual dress codes and free snacks. Look for factors that can make you more/less comfortable and thereby impact your productivity:

  • Amount of daily autonomy you prefer
  • Exposure to new skills, experiences and people
  • Supervisor's management style
  • Communication expectations (real-time meetings vs. email, Google chat or Slack)
  • Level of employee diversity
  • Office layout or location for comfort, accessibility and convenience

It's only your first job, not the rest of your life

Don't beat yourself up for taking a “survival job." But don't ever be afraid to explore an opportunity you always dreamed about if circumstances permit. Also, remember that many graduates don't begin in their fields for various reasons. The job title or specific role can be much less important to achieving your goals than simply positioning yourself to learn, grow and make connections.


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