The First Job Offer

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This time of year means for a number of seniors in college, now is the time you get that first real job offer.   Excitement, fear, nervousness, concern.  Do I negotiate?  Should I just be thankful I received a letter?   I remember that day, back when the offer letter showed up via a FedEx knock at the door.

Really? Me?

The Interview Process:

I worked for this company on and off during college and interviewed for their training program locally with a member of leadership I knew.  He thankfully passed me and I got an invitation for the “2nd round” of interviews.  The corporate HQ was two hours from campus and there was some nasty weather, a good old mid-Atlantic Ice Storm.  The first night was supposed to be a nice country club dinner and sales pitch from top management, but instead we were eating a scrambled together hotel meal in the Ramada Inn (my first clue that Bank’s were a little tight with expenses).  I show up for the dinner and immediately feel under dressed, everyone else is in their suit, but I’m wearing the sport coat and khaki’s.  Very college, but not exactly interview attire.  There’s a nervous energy in the room, but I realize everyone else is just as nervous as I am.  We get through dinner with the power generally staying on, but get a few short outages courtesy of that nice ice storm.   Duke Power employees start showing up and we know we’ll at least keep power.    We’re told the schedule might be subject to change due to the weather, so check downstairs at 8am tomorrow and they will update the group.

After dinner, people dispersed but most folks headed to the hotel bar.  Interestingly, this wasn’t an option for me because I was a couple months shy of my 21st birthday.  Due to a series of events, I was lined up to finish college in three years and I was probably the only person in the room not of drinking age.  Not wanting to give that away to the people who might be my future peers, I sneak away and back to my room.

The next morning we get a modified schedule:  No tour of one facility due to lack of power, so we’re going to head directly to the Corporate HQ.  We show up on charter buses through short foggy and icy trip to the downtown building.  The rest of the day was interesting, they did a professional job finding space for our group and held the first section unexpectedly on the executive floor.   I didn’t realize it at the time, but the CEO had walked into the bathroom and was at the urinal next to me.  Its a good thing I didn’t know it at the time, I could have reached over the divider to shake his hand or ask “how’s it hanging!”  (j/k).

So tell me, what exactly could you do here?


There were three separate interviews with people who clearly weren’t professional interviewers, but managers in various divisions who were asked “would you hire this person?” as the primary point of feedback.  I think I had to sell one of them a pen, while another perked up at the chance of hiring me into his division.   (I had no idea how exhausting this was for the person on the other side of the table until I did it later).   After the long day of interviewing, they wrapped up, said we would be notified in one to three weeks, and they bused us back to the hotel and we were on the way.

Offer Day:

I remember how excited I was when a FedEx envelope showed up at my door – $34,000/year, relocation package, signing bonus, and six months of classroom training.  Outstanding!   There was a catch though…it required a drug test within 48 hours.  That doesn’t sound too bad, except I was due to get in a school caravan and go to New York City on our inaugural trip.   I had already done my research and knew this offer wasn’t negotiable.  I was an undergraduate hire from a lower quality school than they usually recruit from and the offer included six months of paid classroom training.  It also was not a robust job market, so I could either take or leave the offer.

I call the talent coordinator about the offer and tell them “I accept, but this sounds crazy, I have to figure out the drug test.  You’ve given me 48 hours and I’m getting on a school trip to NY”.    I’m sure I wasn’t the first person calling them with an excuse to delay the drug test.  This employer was not in New York, but they said the lab company should have locations up there and it being completed in 48 hours was a firm requirement.   Just a little stress, since this was before smartphones and trying to figure out where to go was not as simple.  I quickly weigh the decisions and decide I can probably figure this out.

First Trip to Wall Street

We all loaded into two school sponsored vans in an unchaperoned trip to New York City.   It was an awesome next day, getting to tour a Mergers and Acquisition Investment Bank and then getting on to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (it wasn’t quite in the “great” days, but it was still bustling with activity and tickets but technology was creeping).    It was an interesting time in the markets too, March of 2003,  just over eighteen months since September 11th and three years into the crash from the tech bubble.

Security was intense due to another armed conflict starting, but it was still an incredible experience.  One of our hosts and alumni of our college had left Cantor Fitzgerald months before the September 11th attack and lost many of his friends, which was a fresh reminder of the people impact of the attacks.  Ground zero was also still in the debris removal phase and I’ll always remember the giant slabs of concrete with steel bars mangled between them.

About the mindset on Wall Street in 2003

I figure out a gap in the schedule after the first day’s events and quickly hustle to find one of the drug testing facilities.  Its starting to pour and I have no raincoat or umbrella, or no knowledge of how to actually care for a suit or shoes.  I finally find this place and its in a less than desirable area, I don’t think the receptionist knew what to do with this country kid showing up and never taken a drug test before.  I remember signing in, being yelled at by multiple people in two languages, then handing them a rain soaked form before getting called back and taking care of business.  I was fortunate that a couple of my friends decided to make that trek with me to find the place.  Did they know what they were doing?   I decided to call the recruiter and leave a message to let them know it was done.

Now that the chaos was over, it was time to enjoy the rest of the trip.  I remember an incredible low-cost diner next to what had to be the only discount hotel around (Howard Johnson in Manhattan?).  My neck hurt from looking up all the time, amazed at how tall and close together all the buildings were.  The pizza place across the street was fascinating to me, just how fast everyone worked and how late they were running deliveries.   This really was the city that never sleeps!   Oh, and there was the part that nobody was concerned about checking IDs for drinks at the time, if they saw young 20 somethings in a bar in suits, they just assumed we were another group of investment analysts going out to drink after work.

Cleared for Hire

I had to wait a week nervously wondering if they received my drug test and if anything went wrong, then I got the call saying I was cleared for hire!   It was done!  I would wonder for a few months if I did the right thing, I had to agree to potential for relocation afterward, find a temporary living situation, and hear how many of my classmates accepted offers for 10-30% higher than what I had accepted.

It ended up all working out okay, I was placed in the area I needed to work in initially and have enjoyed a successful career.  My nervousness about the low offer subsided, as I’m still with that employer today and now earning 5x or ore over that initial job offer fifteen years later.  It has paid to stick with the same company.

Do you remember you first job offer and interviews?  Please share below!



5 Replies to “The First Job Offer”

  1. I didn’t negotiate when I went to get my first job – I’m of the mindset that I will be paid what I’m worth at the end of the day.

    I can only influence that so much – and much of that is influenced by my ability to get stuff done.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading Erik – Fortunately our industry is in a lot better place relating to compensation than it was 15 years ago. There were still some archaic banks paying ridiculously low salaries in the early 2000s, especially those being gobbled up by other institutions. I had to suffer through two managers that came through those archaic institutions and was making less than my assistant for a few years. Its better now

  2. Great post. Question, do you think you would have been able to negotiate the salary? My first salary was $40K, and I thought it was good, until I found out I was the least paid in the team, even though I was the employee of the year 🙂 Costly mistake, but it taught me to always negotiate 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading and congrats on all the work you’re putting in over at 99to1percent!

      Its interesting, I researched this much later and found out I may have gotten a small increase in the signing bonus, but absolutely nothing more on the salary. There were 100s of undergraduates for a limited number of spots. They did pay the MBA students or individuals with industry experience more.

      The entire industry went on a roller coaster ride for the next ten years on salary though, that’s a whole different post for another time. It did hurt eighteen months in when I was interviewing new graduates and I found out the starting offer went up to more than I was making with experience and performance. It all worked out, but made for some interesting times in the first few years.

  3. My first job offer wasn’t a job offer at all. After graduating at the bottom of the Great Recession (2009), I hardly heard back from any applications I sent out. Finally, a tiny online retailer called me in for an interview, and the owners liked my experience with social media and blogging, but didn’t feel like I knew anything about their industry: fashion (which was accurate). They basically told me at the interview that I didn’t have the job.

    They contacted me soon after to ask if I would work as a consultant and fix up their blog. I did, and a few weeks into the working relationship, they contacted me to offer me the original job. Turns out that the person they hired instead of me was not very competent, even though she was into fashion. But they’d been very impressed with my work on their blog and my professionalism, so they figured the fashion part could be taught. I was in that job for one year, though to this day I still know more about luxury swimwear than a person ought to!

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