Managing your first job expectations

  • January 13, 2022
First Job written in marker on glass


Managing your first job expectations - by Peter Grint

I’d like to take a moment to talk job hunting, and to talk about salary expectations, the job hunting process, and thinking long term about your career path – specifically if you’re on the hunt for your first job.

This post is inspired by a scenario that has occurred more than once with colleagues, friends, and family members. These generally tend to be people that have just finished school, or college, or their first “part time job”, but are seeking immediate employment as opposed to further education.

I won’t spend any time judging that decision – after all, I made this same decision after my first year of 6th form, and I’ve worked at least one full time job since then. Maybe going to university is a better life choice, maybe it’s not, maybe it depends on the individual.


Setting the scene

My wife and I have big families, lots of brothers and sisters. Two of these brothers have recently come to me with a request to help them with their CVs. They both wanted to have the best possible chances of securing an interview (that’s what job hunting is about, right? Having the best possible chances?), or at least having their CV read in full.

Neither of them has significant work experience. They have some, but to bulk out their CVs, they both still have their Year 10 work experience listed. There’s nothing wrong with that, we’ve all started there at some point, but one of the things they didn’t understand at the time is that job hunting is a process that only works with effort – as if job hunting itself were a full time job. Which brings me nicely onto point number one…


Job Hunting is a numbers game… and it’s hard work!

I advised them that job hunting is a numbers game. Yes, you need your CV to stand out and highlight your key skills and experience, but that CV needs to be seen by as many relevant hiring managers as possible.

During my own job searches, I’d make hundreds of applications a day, and attend interviews 4 or 5 times a week. Though all the roles I applied for were relevant in some way, I made a point of applying for roles that weren’t exactly what I was looking for. At this point in my career, I knew that I wanted a cool job and a great salary, but I also knew point number two…


Experience is experience

Whether your first job is a paper round, a retail role, a customer service role, a warehouse role, a corner shop assistant, a fast food chain, or voluntary work, you need to keep in mind that you can learn something from every scenario.

I can almost guarantee that when you are interviewing for your dream job, you’ll be asked a question that starts with “tell me about a time when” or “here’s a scenario that you’ll face from time to time, how would you handle it”.

I have, in the past, prepped people to answer these types of questions by digging into their work history and helping them to identify useful examples – but this is almost impossible if there is no work history to speak of. So remember, experience is experience – have your end goal in mind, but take one step at a time on your path to success. It may be hard sometimes, which brings me on to point number three…


Preparation is key

Imagine you are a hiring manager – and if that’s not something you’ve ever experienced let me just lay out a few points you’ll need to bear in mind during this thought experiment.

  1. In a smaller business, your job title is not actually “Hiring Manager”, it’s likely something else and hiring people is just one of the tasks you need to complete to make the business work. You may also have HR tasks to complete, audits, accounts, sales, customer support, technical tasks, the list goes on. The point is, time is precious.
  2. In a larger business, the Hiring Manager may be tasked only with recruitment and perhaps some HR functions. However, it’s a larger company, which means more jobs to recruit for, and more applicants per role. Again, time is precious.

The point I’m trying to make is that, rightly or wrongly, it is not the Hiring Manager’s responsibility to read your CV, forgive any spelling mistakes, and try to make sense of any long-winded (or under explained) points.

The responsibility falls on you, the job seeker, to present the information to the Hiring Manager in a way that either makes them see you’re right for the role, or interests them enough to entice them to read on.

Different recruitment professionals will give slightly different estimates for how long a Hiring Manager will spend considering a CV before deciding whether to continue reading or dismiss the CV. If they dismiss the CV, it likely won’t get another look in it’s current form, you’ll have to re-apply later with more experience listed.

But, according to Glassdoor, you have 6 seconds to make the right impression.

The only thing you can do here is to prepare! Here’s some ideas:

  1. Include a custom covering letter. Yes, it takes time, but as I said earlier, job hunting is hard work!
  2. When you’re writing your CV, don’t think about how wonderful you are, think about what you can bring to the table. For example, “I was Captain of the Girls School Football Team” is great, but “as Captain of the Girls School Football Team I coordinated the team during games, considering strengths and weaknesses of all players to facilitate teamwork and, ultimately, success” shows skills you have and can implement in a working environment.
  3. Research the company – if you can show you’ve put in effort at this stage, a Hiring Manager will see that as a skill even though it’s not been stated in so many words.
  4. Format your CV to make it clear, and readable.

There are a tonne of examples covered in this article titled How to: Write a CV – if you’d like more information, check it out!

So, you’ve written your CV, posted it to all the job boards, you’ve made applications which are relevant to your immediate goals and not just focused on that dream job. Now we need to talk about point number four….



I won’t spend too much time here, because that’s not the purpose of this article. Plus, I’ve already covered off some points in this article entitled Candidates: Are you covering these questions in your interview?

If you’d like a more rounded article on interview tips and tricks, make some noise in the comments, LinkedIn, Twitter, or message me directly, and I’ll get on it!

I would like to quickly circle back to a comment I made earlier, about the number of interviews I attended per week. 4-5 is about average, sometimes more, sometimes less. I’d group them so I had one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so I wasn’t paying for travel every single day. It’s one of those things that every one assumes is fine, but when you’re job hunting (and therefore unemployed), don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by the lack of funds in the old piggy bank. Ultimately, that’s exactly the situation we’re trying to resolve, right?

But it is important, particularly early on, that you attend interviews for roles that aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, to get the interview experience. You won’t get an offer from every company, but you will learn something about interviewing. It will be hard, but it’s worth it.

As a side note, there is a line here – don’t waste an interviewers time – if you’re not going to get anything from the interview and they’re not going to get anything from the interview, it’s probably not worth the effort.

Also, please, I implore you, to communicate with the interviewer or recruiter if you are unable (or unwilling) to attend an interview. If you "ghost" them, it’s rude, unprofessional, and you’ll build a reputation for yourself that you will struggle to “unbuild”.

So, you’ve played the numbers game, you’ve interviewed a butt load, you’ve got a job offer and you start on Monday. Time for point number five…


Don’t fall at the first hurdle

Your first day may be orientation, or training, or shadowing someone else doing your role. It may be a case of “here’s the coffee machine, go and ask everyone what they want”.

It may not be glamourous, you might even not like it, but give it a chance. Remember, this is not your dream job, this is the path to get to your dream job.

If your manager is a bit of a {insert chosen insult here}, remember that you are here to learn how to deal with that situation. When you interview for that dream job, and they ask you about a time when management was difficult to work with, you will have an answer!

Learn how to deal with the situation, seek advice if need be, but stick it out! You’re learning!

And if you’re working with customers, that’s even better. They can be rude and arrogant and have no appreciation for how hard your job actually is. But learning to deal with customers of varying personality traits is an important part of your professional development. Don’t give up straight away, every difficult scenario is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, and build your skill set.

Your CV will look awesome, and your Interviews will be less like interrogations and more like conversations.

Again, as a (very important) side note – There are some difficult situations which facilitate learning, and I would suggest you endure. I am aware that this article is targeted at inexperienced job seekers, and your safety is one million times more important than anything I’ve said so far, so remember this: abuse of any kind, bullying of any kind, discrimination of any kind, and unwanted advances or behaviour, are unacceptable.

In the first instance, you should communicate with your HR department – it is their duty to ensure that each employee is treated fairly, equally, and has a safe working environment.

Please don’t “stick it out” if the workplace is unsafe, or affecting your wellbeing continuously and without hope of resolution.

Sometimes there are “bad days” and sometimes there are “bad jobs”. Seek advice if you’re not sure.

And now for point number six, and the concept that inspired me to write this post in the first place…


Payday isn’t worth it… is it?

So you’ve received your first payslip, congratulations!

You’re excited! You tear open the envelope (or PDF, because 2020)

You take a second to try to make sense of terms such as P.A.Y.E, Net, Gross.

And then you see the section labelled “Deductions”. What’s this N.I? Is that how much Tax I really have to pay? What is an HMRC?

There is a sales technique called “Reduce to the ridiculous” – this is when you take the cost of something, such as a sofa, and break down the cost across smaller segments of time so the overall cost is less intimidating.

Unfortunately, we use this same trick to our own detriment when calculating our pay-per-hour from a salary. If you’re interested to know this, either visit or take your gross pay (after deductions) and divide by 12 months, then by 22 working days, then by 8 hours.

The point here is, you may look at your pay and wonder if your time working for this particular employer was worth it. I would advise you to remember that, for your first job, the aim is to gain experience for future progression.

Work hard, learn a lot, and use that to leverage a better salary in your next role. One step at a time!


A quick note on Covid19

It seems I can’t write a post or article these days without Covid popping in there in some way, shape or form. But this is quite important, if somewhat unfortunate.

In a normal employment market, a first-time job seeker will have competition for any role they apply for. It’s difficult, but you need to have realistic expectations of your starting salary. Often, companies will opt to employ the person who brings the most value to a role, and if the pool of candidates is inexperienced, the salary will reflect that.

Recently, I helped someone get their first job, and she was excited by the advertisement that offered £23,000 starting salary OTE (on target earnings) and disappointed when she didn’t make that much money.

The salary on job descriptions is often presented in a way that gives the employer the best chance of hiring the best person, just as your CV presents you in a way that gives the best chance of finding a great job.

If you have no experience to speak of, are inexperienced at interviewing, can’t provide recommendations due to a lack of referees, or if you’ve not done the preparation I mentioned earlier, I would suggest limiting your salary expectations to no less than what you can “afford to live off”, but not much more than that. I would advise this in a normal employment market, but I advise this even more intensively now.

Redundancies, furlough, lockdown. These three elements mean there are qualified, experienced people going for the same roles as you. I’ve seen individuals qualified to MSc level working in McDonalds, and (non-medical) Doctors stacking shelves for Amazon. No exaggeration.

And I applaud these people – these are tough times and there are doing what they must to put money in the bank and food on the table. These people demonstrate resilience and responsibility every day.

These are the people you are competing with now, so it’s more important than ever that you don’t dismiss a role because you feel you’re worth more money. Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t, but that doesn’t change the market conditions.


It’s not all doom and gloom

The industrial revolution changed the employment market globally. The dot net boom changed the way we run business communications globally. The eCommerce boom changed the way people shop, globally.

The effect of change is in the eye of the observer – if you’re in the hospitality sector during Covid19, it’s likely your business will have suffered already, with more to come.

If you’re in the telecoms business, emergency services, or online retail (such as Amazon), there are opportunities to make the most of the situation.

As a job seeker, it’s tougher to find the types of jobs you may have looked for pre-Covid. However, keep in mind that lockdown has forced us all to learn how to work from home, a policy that many, many companies have adopted now.

Remote work is no longer out of arms reach, even for first time job seekers. This means less money spent on travel, so that £18k basic is (other than Tax and NI) actually all yours.

Online shopping has boomed, which means that warehouse roles are abundant. There are some great skills to be learned in a role like this!

And if you can forgo a salary altogether, there are millions of people in need. The elderly, the young, animals. Try volunteering for a charity that helps people, it’ll look great on your CV, assist your mental health, and help you build skills for your next job seeking session.



It’s tough out there, we’re in unprecedented times. Be resilient, persistence, realistic and diligent, and opportunities will present themselves to you.

Don’t give up! And stay safe!