The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What advice do you have for college graduates entering the workforce?” is written by Natalie Wadsworth, vice president of people at Sailthru.
As a new college graduate, evaluating potential companies to work for can be overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be that hard. While many companies may seem similar at first glance, there are major differences between startups, scale-ups, and long-established enterprises. Here are some questions to think about when applying for jobs and considering offers from early- and mid-stage companies.
Do they offer a valuable product?
When evaluating a potential employer, start with evaluating their product. If you can buy and use the product because it’s a consumer product, start there. Do you love the product? Does it solve a major problem in your life or can you imagine that it does in the lives of many others? If you can imagine that lives will be changed or improved by this product, or by the idea of this product if it isn’t available yet, that’s a start.
Investigate what customers say about their product or service by reading reviews. For business-to-business companies, search for a competitive analysis of the industry or by finding and talking to a real customer to determine their point of view on the state of the company—including its strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities. Look for customer reviews on the brand’s site and on other, independent review sites to see what people are saying. Search for it on social media to see how it engages with its customers. Are there evangelists of the product everywhere you look? Could they not imagine their life without that product or service?
Regardless of what kind of company it is, you should come away from your research thinking: This company builds something lots of people really love or is developing something people will really love.
What’s your appetite for risk and change?
While working at a startup may seem more exciting than at an older, more established venture, it is critical to remember that startups by nature are inherently risky. According to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics, since 1994, 50% of all new businesses made it to their fifth year and one-third made it to their 10th. No matter how rigorous an evaluation you undertake, you have to recognize two things. First, you’re taking a risk. Second, there is simply a lot of luck involved in a startup going the distance, as venture capitalists and leadership teams cannot control external market conditions.
It is also reasonable to expect that a startup will experience near-constant change to its product, strategy, and team. For some, that uncertainty might be outweighed by the great commercial, professional, and intellectual opportunities it offers. For others, that prospect may feel more terrifying than exciting. Figure out which type of person you are.
Will this position challenge me?
It's important to be challenged in your first job. You may explore a few different careers before settling on the best fit, so it is crucial that your early positions help you develop good communication, time management, and problem-solving skills. In addition, make sure to seek exposure to senior leadership and volunteer to work in different functions so you can gain skills outside of your core responsibilities. These are great ways to get everything you can out of your first experience in the workforce.