Just imagine that you are 22 years old again, and you have the wisdom of over 20 years of business experience with you. What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself? I offer my thoughts to today’s college graduates, in the spirit of help. I have thought about what I would tell myself if I were leaving college life today. Are you going to work? You may find the rules are different.
Join the culture. Especially if you are going to work in a large corporation, go native. Discover what the business values. Learn the stories – like how was the business started? What makes a hero at this workplace? How are people celebrated? Don’t be a cynical mocker; find a way to be part of the culture. Treat your workplace like an extended family, and you may be given a chance to grow into the enterprise.
Be prepared to work hard. Don’t ask about where the limits are – find ways to give in meaningful ways. Hard work is not just about the hours; it is also about how much you are thinking about your mission and purpose. Ask your manager, “How can I make the best contribution here?” Don’t be the person who stops working at 3 pm but still gets paid until 5 – show everyone that you are giving a lot in the way you work. You’ll have time to play hard too.
Consider a Job With Sales Skills. If I could replay my life to age 22, I would sign up for the opportunity to build sales skills. Many high achievers have felt that this skill was important to their career arc. The ability to sell something gives the college graduate a great deal of career flexibility.
Be committed to something important. Work hard because you believe in something. Our world needs visionaries, people willing to work hard because good things are possible. If you are working for a business or agency that makes the world a better place, let that feeling soak into your soul. If your soul cannot celebrate what the business is all about, move on. You may be paid well right now, and that feels good, but it won’t feel good in 18 months. Speaking of pay, it is important, but your first choice should be to work some place where you can make a difference.
Stay nimble, be ready to move on. The world changes quickly. Even though you are committed, your reasons for being there may need to change. While I like long-term employee loyalty, frequently there are good reasons to move on. Don’t get attached. Stay flexible, and occasionally look for other alternatives to your current situation.
Look for ways to be distinguished. Choose to be the guy or gal who “really knows the secret of our operating system.” Become an expert; do something better than anyone else around you. Offer to train others (when you reach this expert status) on how to optimize their work. You’ll get noticed!
Choose to be a lifelong learner. Don’t end your education just because you have graduated. Get a certificate in a new field. Take a look at online education. Maybe this is the right time to learn a foreign language – or the piano. The Teaching Company offers an excellent course on Ancient Egypt and the Italian Renaissance, taught by award-winning college professors. Invest some time to make yourself a more interesting person, a person of depth and value. You are worth it!
Help others whenever you can. Be a giver. When you help other people succeed, you increase your chances to get ahead. People admire and respond to the quality of helping others. You will create a reputation that can open doors for you when you least expect it.
Enjoy this great time in your life. Your new workplace can create new opportunities for you. Don’t abandon your ideals; work to create a better world around you. You won’t be earning grades – you’ll be earning a place in the world.
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Steve Broe is an executive coach and author. He lives in Scottsdale Arizona. He answers the question, “How does leadership help people become successful?” in his new book, Leading the Way Up Mt. Olympus, now available on Amazon.