07/30/2014 09:47 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

6 Questions a Tech Grad Asks When Choosing That First Job

2014-07-30-dreamstime_s_29632248.jpgThis month I'm posting questions from Baylor University 2014 Finance/Entrepreneur Major, Brice McKee who is considering technology consulting jobs and wants to make the best short and long-term decision. He is a technology and a business graduate fielding interviews from industry giants, startups, and large system integrators. I answer his questions pointing out the first job isn't as critical as it is foundational:

1: How do you decide between a larger company or a smaller company when applying for a technology consultant position?

The smaller the company, the more immersed you get to be into your role and the supporting roles around it -- wearing multiple hats. You may get involved with clients faster; you may be involved in more aspects of the work than you would in a larger company where roles are more defined. Keep in mind that in a smaller company, you will learn more faster but you also will be expected to perform faster -- with no room to hide while you get comfortable.

2: At a consulting firm, Is it beneficial to have experience working at the corporate headquarters before going into the field at client sites?

You ultimately need experience on both sides of the equation. Back office corporate experience will give you insight into the inner workings of process and operations and create internal allies that you will depend on in the field.

3: When it comes to salary, how do you differentiate yourself from other applicants, and how much of the salary is variable?

Salary for grads is often dependent on GPA, internship work, and degree choice as it applies to the job you are seeking. A consultant who travels often receives a base salary and bonus which is tied to the amount of travel and performance.

4: When entering the workforce, what are the pros/cons of going straight into consulting vs. working on the industry side for a few years and then pursuing consulting?

As a finance major whose goal is to become a startup CEO or a corporate CFO, this decision is the most important. As a consultant, your job will be to educate customers about technology and processes; they expect you to be an expert. Without spending time on the client side of the equation, you can't fully understand the jobs of these individuals. However, if you spend a couple years as an accountant or developer in a client environment, you will learn invaluable nuances that you can leverage throughout your career. In other words, you will get more respect from the people you are consulting when they know you have been where they are. That can mean a shorter time to project success.

5: What questions are important to ask when interviewing a consulting firm?

When considering a consulting firm or systems integrator, ask "How long will I spend on my first project?", "When will I start my first project?", "What mentoring or training will I receive?", "Will training be in the form of shadowing, classroom, or trial by fire?"

6: After working in the field as a traveling consultant 100%, does real opportunity exist to transition to a position on the industry side that doesn't require travel as much in 5-6 years ?

As a technology or business consultant, you will be considered a road warrior, and in those first years after graduation, if you are free of family ties, you will be able to easily travel. As those ties start rooting, you can easily return to or move to industry side jobs. When you are ready to take an industry side job after consulting, you will be more valuable to that future employer because you will have seen many companies operating in many different processes.

The best advice I can give, though, is to not worry so much about the size of the company or your specific role in your first job, but to focus on the person that interviews you. Do you see someone who is going to mentor you, take you under their wing and help you learn? Your first job, won't be your last job, but with the right leadership, it could be your best job.