Thoughts on entering the workforce

Thoughts on entering the workforce
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Karen Sternheimer

Want to love your job? It helps if you have a higher income, have a master’s degree, and are 65 or older. However, this probably won’t help if you’ve recently graduated and are looking for a job.

As we enter college graduation season and many new graduates begin their journey into the workforce, it’s important to figure out more than just what you want to do but as you wish to live.

Commencement speeches are full of platitudes encouraging graduates to go out and conquer the world, make a difference, and just “screw it,” whatever that means. I hear these speeches every year at our university’s commencement ceremony, and the advice rings as hollow today as it did when I graduated. The truth is that finding a job and a workplace you like takes a lot of trial and error. Sometimes this can mean switching gears, changing employers or even changing careers. But it can also help you consider issues that won’t be listed in the job description or on your resume.

The Pew Research Center recently released a report called “How Americans View Their Jobs” that included the above findings about Americans’ job satisfaction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the highest job satisfaction is reported by those in well-paying jobs with more employer-sponsored benefits and paid time off. Among higher-paid workers (defined in the study as those earning more than $131,000), highly educated workers are more likely than others to say that their work is strongly connected to their identity.

According to the Pew report, what other factors can contribute to job satisfaction?

  • It feels like your contribution is valued
  • It feels like the employer cares about you
  • Paid time off
  • Love your co-workers
  • Opportunity to develop new skills
  • Be treated with respect
  • Feeling physically safe

In a separate study, Pew found that working from home or a mixed schedule helped respondents achieve a better work-life balance and meet deadlines, even though home workers report feeling less connected to coworkers. Working from home, at least some of the time, means having confidence to do your job and some independence.

It’s hard to know if a particular job will check all of these boxes until you start, but a close look at the job description can help you determine hours and benefits. Websites like have company reviews from current and former employees that can be helpful.

In fact, your lifestyle will change over time, as will your work-related needs. When I first graduated from college, I loved having a job that allowed me to stay up late and work late. Now I need the reverse. Friends and family members have had jobs they despised, stuck out of inertia or unable to find another job, but found new purpose when given more responsibility. And sometimes a difficult manager leaves and the whole atmosphere changes, for better or for worse. In some cases, a productive conversation with a manager can help redefine career trajectory and satisfaction, or lead to a new job search.

As I wrote in a previous post, it’s been decades since I’ve held a non-academic job, but I had a few before I graduated from grad school. One work excited me so much that I was afraid sunday in the morning, knowing that Monday is coming. Another thing about drafting rude dictated letters from my employer that violated my values ​​made me feel complicit in humiliating other people. In some of these jobs, I was yelled at by strangers and co-workers. This experience helped motivate me to attend graduate school and find a more meaningful job.

I didn’t make a list as I navigated my winding path to becoming a professor, but here are the things that matter to me today:

  • Autonomy
  • To be in a supportive environment that emphasizes respect for all
  • Do work that feels meaningful
  • Learn new things (a requirement for professors!)
  • New challenges and opportunities
  • A few hours of downtime during the work week
  • Hybrid work

What’s on your list?

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