Over the years, I’ve offered and received many bits of advice about starting out and managing a career. On the occasion of her son’s college graduation, the mother of one of my students asked me to jot down what I wish I had known at 22, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to turn my comments into a blog post. So, college graduates, what should you remember as you start off in the workplace?
When choosing between employers, take the one that really wants you. During a job search, opportunities often come at the same time, forcing you to choose. While it’s easy to be swayed by more money, security, or benefits, over the long term, you will be far happier with the employer that makes you feel welcome and values your opinion. You don’t want to look back with regret (although sometimes that’s inevitable).
Even though you’re excited at the beginning of a new position, you may want to look out for your next job.. That’s something I heard many years ago while working at a major consulting firm. While it sounds a bit extreme, the point is well taken: the person looking out for you is . . . you! Bosses, colleagues and strategies may come and go, sometimes leaving you feeling disappointed or without a mentor. Don’t be caught unprepared; watch the (employment) market both inside and outside the company.
Don’t be afraid to take risks. It’s great to be secure. When many of us began our careers, we were careful to the point of being risk averse; we regretted that later on. Today’s employers recognize that taking a risk doesn’t always work out, and they may even admire a prospect who wasn’t afraid to take a chance or try a new opportunity. In this era of startups, employers don’t always question why a candidate needs to find a new position.
Get the Wall Street Journal (online), and go through it every day. The Journal is about way more than business; in fact the demographic and cultural articles are wonderful. They’re also going to fuel you with material to impress clients and colleagues!
Be kind to colleagues and managers you don’t particularly like. Acting cynically toward or ignoring others may result in bitterness (and even more cynicism). Instead of telling someone off, or giving that person the cold stare, greet him or her kindly and make conversation. You never know when you’ll be working again with that person.
Don’t let your past weaknesses cloud your confidence. We’re all better at some things than others, and sometimes we allow our weaker areas to drag us down. Use your attributes –hard work, diligence, and follow-up skills–to peck away at your weaker areas. Often, there’s a lot more joy in improving a weakness than applying a strength.
Most importantly, do what you love! Don’t be swayed by what’s hot or what’s different or what your peers are doing (for more money). Eventually, all of that evens up, and you’ll be left much happier if you just do what you really care about. Looking at it another way, the earlier you do what you love, the sooner you’ll be an expert in that area or subject.