There is a very real stigma around company names when you are an upperclassman in college. Social status, ego, and self-esteem can be very focused on the names of the companies you’ve interned for, are interviewing with, and have offers from. Drop the name of a big consulting firm, tech company, or financial giant and gain instant respect and admiration in the eyes of your peers. I used to be very involved in this way of thinking. If someone I spoke with dropped a big name I was instantly intimidated and thought they were somehow smarter and more successful than I was. Professors can even unknowingly perpetuate this problem, giving impressed reactions and affirmative responses when told of a company a student will work for. I’ve had professors make a continual example of students who have locked down jobs at a company they recognize, putting them on a proverbial pedestal in class. Granted, I am not throwing blame on students or professors specifically for this whole thing. A student should be able to feel proud and receive praise for receiving a job offer, and a professor is well within their rights to be impressed by those students.

A Culture Problem

But I am speaking of a culture problem that runs very deep. A large corporate gig right out of school brings many positives including great pay and benefits, room for growth, and job security in the fact that the company probably won’t fold anytime soon. Yet I feel like many people decide corporate life will be their career path simply because it is the accepted and “safe” way to come out of school. The purpose of college was to get good grades and get a good job upon graduation. Mission accomplished. Or is it? Today lets talk about if corporate life is really correct for you and what that may mean. As someone who spent over half their college career in this mindset, I know how it feels and what it’s like. This post is not meant to bash corporations and those who work for them, my hope with this post is to push you to consider all the possibilities post-college instead of limiting yourself to one option. For some, corporate life IS the right thing to do and extremely fulfilling, for others it isn’t.

Look Inside Yourself

A job search is inherently introspective. Your work says a lot about who you are, and in some cases what you believe in. So when you are considering those interviews, or simply online looking at companies ask yourself some questions.

Do you care about the work this company does? Can you see yourself coming to work everyday here and getting after it?

Do you believe in the purpose of this company? In their products or services? Think about your personal values. Does this company match up? If not why are you considering working there? Plenty of other places to work. Don’t let yourself off the hook.

Are you looking at jobs only through your school’s career services? If so, why? There are too many opportunities in the world to limit yourself that drastically. Put in some of your own leg work to find a company that lines up with the answers to these other questions.

What are your career goals? You may have to make some sacrifices along the way. In some cases you may have to make a choice. You may have to decide if you want to learn a specific industry, or a specific role. Asking yourself if you care more about the industry you learn, or the role you master can be a great way to focus your job search. I received this great piece of advice from Jake Rouse, and I fell back on it many times when I was recruiting last fall.

What if you have no idea what role or industry you are destined for? (*Raises my own hand) In a small business you’ll likely have the opportunity to wear multiple hats like an entrepreneur does, working across many different facets of the business. Corporations also offer rotational and development programs, albeit much more structured ones. Find a place willing to give you flexibility and options for how your career progresses, and ask yourself if rising through the corporate ladder is how you want to do that.

Are you taking a job for the pay?┬áPlease don’t. The first step to being miserable in your job is taking one you will hate purely based on the fact that it pays better. Many small businesses or other careers won’t be able to pay as much, but if you love your job it won’t matter.

Will the job fit the lifestyle you want? Corporations are inherently unflexible when it comes to your time. Specific hours in a day, specific days off. What if that isn’t what you want? By the way, assuming working in a start-up or small business will be easier on your time is wrong. Oftentimes, because you wear multiple hats and are responsible for more, you will work more. Taking a job because you think you will work less hours is foolish and another easy way to hate your job.

But what if you have something completely different nagging at the back of your head, like volunteering overseas, or travelling for a year, or joining a band and playing in bars all over the country? Don’t limit yourself to your college major, the status quo, or what you know. Really dig in and think about what you want to do.

The purpose of this post is not to dissuade you from working at a large company. In fact, maybe the questions above reinforced your desire to do just that. Great! My hope is that you will stop thinking purely based on the majority and think for yourself. There is so much groupthink in college it is unbelievable. Figure out where you want to go, and what you want to be doing, then make an informed decision for yourself.

If I can ask one thing of you, it would be for you to consider all the possibilities.

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February 25, 2015

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