Your first job – what to look for… and what to be careful about

At TSG, much like other companies, we are beginning our fall college recruiting season.  Last year, we wrote a very well received article titled “That first job-what to look for”.  In talking to our recruits, we realized that other firms were doing similar things, but glamorizing things that weren’t necessarily always positive.  This year’s post will summarize last year’s article and try to address some of the less than glamorous items to be careful about.

First job – What to look for

The complete article is here but to summarize some of the key points:

  • Focus on Career – Your first “real” job should be the stepping stone of a career, not just another job.  Look for an environment that will help you learn and develop successful habits that will be the foundation of a career.
  • Learning – Realize you “don’t know just how much you don’t know” and that constant learning and challenge is a part of any successful career.  Learning should be more than just training courses.  Learning should also include working on the challenging assignments, be built into the corporate culture, and include mentoring.
  • Professional Habits – A successful career is made up of good professional habits.  A habit is something that, over time, results in better work and team members and hence, a better career.
  • Culture – Learning and Professional Habits need to be fostered by a culture that supports them.  Recruits should look for a team environment with professionalism where they can see themselves fitting in.

First job – recruiters and what to watch out for…

Too often we see college graduates being swayed into choosing a company based on not the most openly honest description of the job as portrayed by the company recruiters.  New graduates should keep in mind that, often times, recruiters are compensated based on their ability to add new recruits, not on your satisfaction once you start the job.  This is one of the reasons TSG doesn’t use recruiters.  We want the people who do the job to be open and honest about what the job involves.

Recruits should also keep in mind that items that save the firm money can easily be twisted into job benefits.  For example, many firms try to reduce the cost of office space.  The firm has to pay for desks/offices and rent.  Frugal employers will push for working anywhere but the office (client or home), rather than provide individual space for all employees.  For office work, we are seeing a trend toward a “communal” workspace and “hoteling” as an extension of the trend to provide less space and lower rent.  Recruiters will push these cost saving choices are perks and valuable to recruits rather than emphasizing that they are designed to save the firm money.

The remainder of this post will highlight some of the things we often hear from other recruiters that recruits should look to understand in more detail.

Travel – Think of the Navy

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, the Navy used to have a recruiting campaign “Join the Navy, see the world”.  In the ads, they would show happy sailors on leave in exotic places (Hong Kong for instance) having a great time.  The reality was that, while shore leave is part of the Navy, the majority of time for a sailor is in the bowels of the ship with shore leave very limited and not always in the most exotic places.

For consulting firms, often times the glamour of the “opportunity” to travel can also be oversold, versus the reality of what is involved in travel.   In consulting, travel is typically to the office of the client.  Some non-glamorous points that are often glazed over in regards to travel include:

  • Clients aren’t always in the most glamorous locations – recruits that commit to companies in Chicago often expect travel to be international or to other major “fun” cities.  More often, travel can involve trips to cities smaller less glamorous than Chicago or long commutes to suburban locations.
  • Clients don’t often have the most glamorous location for consultants.  Often consultants are squeezed into small spots (I have personally worked in a basement).  Work conditions, phone and internet access can be difficult making consultants less productive in addition to the commute and travel times.
  • Flying is no longer “fun” – Anyone who has flown lately and had to deal with crowded planes knows that the old days of “fun flying” have long past.   Crowded planes, delayed flights, travel food and hotels are not glamorous.
  • Work-Life Balance – Nothing interferes with a work-life balance more than traveling and being away from the rest of your life and only focused on work.

At TSG we look to minimize travel whenever we can.  While promoting a healthy face-to-face relationship with clients, we try to look for sensible travel.  With remote connectivity, WebEx, and conference calls, we feel we can keep our client relationship, make our clients happy with reduced flight and hotel expenses, make our consultants productive all while maintaining a good culture and fun environment in the office.  We have found that we average less than 3% travel by working in this manner.

Salary and Overtime (and average overtime)

In the last ten years, the model for many consulting firms has been to move away from paid overtime to a salary model.  In this manner, the more overtime a consultant works, the more the employer makes with no additional cost.  TSG has decided to keep paying overtime for non-managers.  Consider the following scenario:

  • A consulting firm sells a job that should take 5 people working full-time three months to complete.
  • The consulting firm, looking to make more money, decides to only staff 4 salaried people and approve overtime.
  • The consultants, rather than working 40 hours a week, each need to work 50 hours per week.

While many might say 10 extra hours per week seems small, many times the extra 2 hours a day or sacrificing a weekend day add up to a poor work-life balance over time.  It makes it even harder if some consultants, given their assignment, are working overtime while others are not.

At TSG, we pay for overtime for our 1-3 year consultants.  When evaluating salaries, we will typically advise recruits to ask other firms about overtime and calculate appropriately when comparing compensation.  For the example above, we would prefer to staff a project with 5 people rather than just 4.  Our managers are on a salary model as we feel, at a certain stage, that they should be motivated to delegate to the 1-3 year consultants, rather than keep overtime (and more compensation) for themselves.  We have found that working this way, our average overtime is less than 2%, a significant factor for evaluating work-life balance.

Work from Home – is it really all it is cracked up to be?

Often times, some consulting firms will provide for a “work from home” job perk.  As mentioned before, this is a way for the firm to save rent costs and is often presented as a perk rather than a cost saving measure.  For recruits, the thought of no commute and “working in my pajamas” can seem very appealing.

As we mentioned in the previous article, learning and culture is a major component of a successful career.  Face to face interaction with peers and mentors, being able to ask questions in person and bonding with coworkers is an important part in learning and developing professional habits as well as just plan more enjoyable.  For college graduates, consider what college would be like if it was all online and there were no face to face activities?

TSG promotes working in our office with the ability to work from home as the exception (doctors appointment, cable installation) rather than the rule.  We purchased our space with the idea that a good working environment with an easy commute works best in making TSG a fun and enjoyable place to work.


One question our longest college hire George (13 years and counting) gets often is why, in an environment where people change jobs often, he has remained at TSG for over 13 years?  George typically replies that he “likes the work and likes the people” and that for his career development, TSG provides both.

In looking for that first job, candidates should try to take a long view in the sense of their career and see how the environment (learning), habit development (professionalism), and culture establish a solid foundation for a successful career while understanding what is realistic and what is a recruiting pitch.

If you have other thoughts you would like to share, please comment below.

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