To entice college students to join their ranks, employers love promising “room for growth” and “upward mobility.” But how can you be sure employers are being truthful?
As a college student, you only have a few internship opportunities. And, as stated before, internships are the best onramp to full time employment. Before investing a precious semester or summer, you must ensure your opportunity is maximized for upside.
When I worked on Wall Street, numbers were (and still are) king. Every broker talked about the amount of money they managed, or the net worth of their newly acquired client. Obviously, the more money, the better.
New Wall Street employees are exposed to these numbers and are promised that a dedicated career can lead to massive returns. “Want to make lots of money?” they ask. “Just look at Steve. He grew his business from nothing and now manages over $100 million off of which he makes $300k a year and vacations all over the world.”
But I hate taking puffery on face value. My internal instincts skeptically asked:
- Is Steve’s rags-to-riches story a moonshot for me? If so, I’ll likely crash and burn and waste years of my valuable twenties. Just how likely can I replicate Steve’s success?
- What if I bring in over $100 million? What are the chances? How will my salary compare to Steve’s?
I wanted proof of this supposed upside.
One of the best HACKs I’ve discovered for uncovering the upside at a company is what I call the “Parking Lot HACK.” If you want to know the value of a person’s bank account, look at their car. Cars don’t lie. And when you have an entire parking lot full of cars, you can develop a great sense of your future earnings potential at a company.
Before I accepted my position on Wall Street, I took a stroll through the parking lot. Not surprisingly, I found lots of foreign luxury cars. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus brands filled virtually every stall. My boss drove an Audi A4, and he managed $60 million (compare to many others who managed much, much more). Clearly, Wall Street possessed a ton of upside.
Consider another example. I currently live in DC, a culture that almost unanimously believes the best jobs are found within the elite ranks of the federal government. When I worked at the U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of General Counsel, I wanted to see how this belief held up against the Parking Lot HACK.
When I strolled through the employee lot, I almost couldn’t believe it. Honda Accords, VW Passats, and Toyota Camry’s were everywhere. At first I thought it must be due to employees of all titles and positions parking there. After all, I was working with lawyers at one of the most prestigious federal agencies in government. They had to make great money, right?
One time our office drove to a luncheon across town. I rode with my boss, one of the senior attorneys at the SBA. She drove a Toyota Camry. Think about that. This was a highly educated woman, who (i) graduated from one of the most elite undergrad and law schools in the entire world, (ii) practiced law for 20 years, giving her lots of experience and seniority, and (iii) worked for one of the most prestigious agencies in the federal government. And she drove a Camry.
“What if she just didn’t like cars?” you ask, calling into question the Parking Lot HACK. Well, maybe she didn’t. But everyone else in the SBA, Office of General Counsel, drove a mid-tier car, too. When everyone drives a mid-tier car, at some point you must conclude it’s because they don’t have money to buy a luxury car, not because they don’t want one. And if they don’t have extra income, that means they work in a place with limited upside.
So before you invest one of your precious internship opportunities on a company promising an experience with massive upside, take a walk through the parking lot. It will tell you more about your future compensation than any conversation with an interviewer. And you know what? The Parking Lot HACK is free and takes two minutes. Now that’s a HACK!