Don’t be surprised if brief moments of doubt strike soon after you accept your first professional job. While it’s impossible to erase all career anxiety, you can minimize the jitters by understanding what a 9-to-5 job is really like.
Everyone will be glad to see me. When 22-year-old Aimee Sheriff arrived at Fort Meade in Maryland to start her first job as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Army, she wondered if she’d gone to the wrong place. The chair behind the reception desk was empty. Busy employees darted across the floor, but no one stopped to greet her. "I was unsure of what to do or where to go," says Sheriff. Finally, after several minutes, a vigilant staffer took notice and tracked down her supervisor. Once she found the others on her team, things turned around quickly.
"By the end of the day, I’d started to build camaraderie with the other new hires," she recalls. "Still, those first few moments were intimidating!" "It’s completely normal to experience anxiety during your first several days, even weeks, of work," says Timothy Luzader, director at the Center for Career Opportunities at Purdue University. "Once you realize that there’s a steep learning curve, a new job can seem overwhelming."
I’m going to conquer the world. "After six years of studying and training for my profession, I thought I would leave school and conquer the world," says Atlanta resident Anne Scheve, who was hired as a speech language pathologist at age 24. "But my first job was trial by fire; I was so overwhelmed at times, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into."Avoid the shock of plunging into a new job by researching the work environment before accepting a position, advises Manuel Perez, career center director at California State Polytechnic University.
Do you love to talk with people and get really excited at the idea of helping make their dreams come true? Have you always had entrepreneurial drive? Even if you didn’t thrive on doing math in school, you may be surprised to hear that a financial services career could be right for you.
Recruits with strong communication skills, a broad understanding of business and a willingness to work hard are in high demand with a variety of financial services firms today, according to www.careers-in-finance.com.
2005 looks to be a growth year for insurance and investment banking companies who are planning to recruit more heavily on campuses across the nation based on a study conducted by the Collegiate Employee Research Institute at Michigan State University. Financial firms, hungry to tap the growing minority market, are also beefing up their diversity programs and recruitment of people of color and women.
Career options abound in the world of finance so you’ll want to explore various industries such as banking, insurance, brokerage/investing and accounting where you’ll find a multitude of jobs from auditors and tax preparers to bank tellers or investment brokers.
Reasons for getting into financial services are as varied as the individual. Andrew Haning, senior broker at R.J. O’Brien in Chicago, finds that his work in the futures market is a natural way to combine his interest in finance with his family’s background in farming.
Working in the investment industry takes assertiveness and the ability to hear ‘no’ a lot, says Haning. "But if you have confidence and self-discipline you can do really well in this field."
For Bradley Ernst, a financial representative with the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, one of the greatest benefits of his career is the opportunity to help clients gain a better understanding of financial tools to plan a more secure future.
"Making a positive impact on people’s lives, being my own boss and having great income potential are the factors that make this the perfect job for me," Ernst says. But you have to be willing to work hard and understand that networking skills are crucial in this field, he adds.
One great way to find out which career is right for you is to do an internship while still in school. Ernst interned for two years at Northwestern Mutual before deciding that the personal advisor lifestyle was for him.
Work hours and lifestyle in financial services can vary based upon whether your career goals take you to a small community bank or a leading Wall Street firm. Generally, you might find yourself putting in a 40-60 hour week unless you are in the intensely-competitive investment environment where 120 hour weeks are not unusual in return for higher financial rewards.
To get that first job, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. But because each industry has its own requirements and body of knowledge, you may need more advanced degrees, certifications and licenses. For example, Ernst majored in accounting and business with a minor in pre-law, earned his Life Health Annuity license while in school, his Series 6 license during his first year of work and is currently working on his Certified Life Underwriter designation. Haning studied sociology and later earned his Series 3 broker license.
Technology also continues to remake the financial services industry. The Internet has changed the way firms do business from online trading to bank deposits. Experts say some of the greatest demand in the industry is in information technology. So you might want to skip that pottery class during your last semester and take an Internet course instead.
If your mantra is ‘show me the money,’ there’s plenty of growth opportunity in financial services. Depending on your job and where you live, you can earn anywhere from $15 an hour to well over $70 an hour, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor. But it’s predicted that the fastest job growth over the next decade will occur for accountants in tax and healthcare fields, as well as for personal financial advisors who will be needed to counsel the growing number of baby-boomers heading into retirement.
No matter where you go in financial services, one thing is clear. The stereotypical picture of finance professionals as "bean counters" has changed. Technology means the computers count the beans. As Roberto Goizueta, the late CEO of Coca-Cola once said, "The secret isn’t counting the beans. It’s growing more beans." That means that the demand for smart, articulate and thoughtful people in finance positions will increase even more in the future.
"If you can get permission, spend an afternoon at the workplace talking to employees and getting a sense of what they like and dislike about the organization,"he adds. If touring the facilities proves impractical, try to glean as much information as you can during initial conversations with the hiring manager. "Remember that you, too, can ask questions and interview them about their company," says Perez.
I’m going to make a lot of money. Despite warnings from teachers, Scheve also found herself unprepared for her less-than-substantial salary. "I felt disheartened that I was making much less than I thought I would. People had told me not to go into health care for the money, but I didn’t believe them!"
Even graduates who have prepared for jobs in high finance can be thrown by lower-than-expected starting salaries. Before he started work as a management accounts consultant at age 21, Dave Luther was finishing a five-year work-study program. "Just as my internship ended and prior to graduation, the economy tanked. I searched for five months to find a job and was grateful to finally find one. My new salary was half the one I’d earned during my internship. It was humbling."
Even in a bad economy, "you should never accept less than the industry salary standard for your work," says career manager and author Nicole Williams. Before accepting a position, try to negotiate your salary. First, educate yourself about the profession’s average salary in your region and at your experience level, she advises.
I’ll have lots of free time. "College doesn’t really clue you into the hours you’ll be working at a real job," says Sarah Meadors, who started as an account coordinator for a Manhattan-based advertising agency soon after her 20th birthday. "There have been times when I didn’t leave the office until after midnight."
While the schedule Meadors keeps may be unusual – extended hours are standard in her competitive field – even workers in traditional jobs can expect to put in extra time occasionally. "Longer hours are becoming more common in the work place, especially if one is called to do double duty because of job vacancies or personal leave," says Luzader. He recommends doing some detective work. "Investigate the organization to find out what work hours are truly acceptable and expected."
For example, a company may consider its workday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but in practice, employees are expected to stay long past quitting time. If you can get in contact with current staffers, ask them what time they really walk out the door at night. Are they constantly putting in additional hours – without additional pay? Even when the hours are reasonable, getting in stride with a professional schedule may take some time.
Rachel Shelasky, a 23-year-old legal assistant in New York City, had some trouble adjusting to her nine-hour day. "I had been used to living the college life and napping after class. The real world came as a huge shock to my system," she laughs. "After a while, though, it became my routine and now it actually feels good. "When I first arrived at my job, it was hectic," remarks Sheriff. "I was OK with working longer hours, because everyone else was pulling together to do the same. When you share the same pace and workload, it gives you the support group you need to get through it."
I’ll have an office with a view. Cramped quarters, poor lighting, or improper ventilation can make working difficult in some offices. However, most new hires start their career in a cubical – low-end real estate compared with the boss’s corner office. The working environment extends beyond your partition walls.
"Our company is located on an entire floor of a building downtown,"says Meadors, who was promoted to advertising account executive earlier this year. "It’s an open space with huge windows looking out to all sides. Because the place is so large, we ride scooters to get from one side to the other. "The perks at Luther’s first job made his office space and low salary bearable. "We had a dog-sitter, kennel, childcare, gym, an onsite restaurant for clients, and a cafeteria for employees. It was exciting, because even though I didn’t make much money, I could actually leave every day at 5 and hit the company gym."
Reprinted from U.25, a young adult publication produced by USAA, a financial services company committed to serving members of the military and their families since 1922.