Well, it’s that time of year. Undoubtedly you’re hearing all sorts of uplifting and inspiring advice from celebrities and CEOs at your commencements, and there’s certainly a place for all of that. But the reality is that most of you need to get jobs and enter the professional world for the first time. Here’s five pieces of practical advice you probably won’t hear in a graduation speech.
1) Think of yourself as an apprentice.
Some of you have already landed your first job out of school while others are still looking. No matter where you sit, here’s a bit of tough love: The vast majority of you are in the very unfortunate place in your career of being completely and totally replaceable. You haven’t been hired because of your skill – you’ve been hired because of your potential. Your organizations hired you because they think you’re a good investment, but make no mistake – they’re investing in you to train you and get you up to speed on all of the things you did not learn in college. This is dues paying time, and it can be painful. You’re going to have to do things you think are beneath you and take instruction that you don’t see the point of. But this part of the process is necessary and something that everyone who’s come before you has gone through. You’ll learn what works, and what doesn’t. You’ll experience success and failure. You’ll learn when you should talk, and when it’s better to keep quiet. Take this time to suck up as much knowledge as you can from those around you. This is how we learn to be great at what we do.
2) Don’t gossip. Just don’t.
This can be the easiest rule to break. Work is a social place and we can’t be on our guard all the time and we’ll say things off the cuff that we probably shouldn’t. And once in a while it’s ok, but don’t make it a habit. Here’s the thing: Gossip always….ALWAYS….gets back to the people you’re talking about, even if you don’t think it will at the time. After all, the people you’re gossiping with probably aren’t just gossiping with you! Focus on your job and your work and don’t expend your energy worrying about what other people may or may not be doing. You will never have all of the facts about what’s going on behind the scenes, and what’s more, you’re not entitled to them. You’ll be happier if you avoid the nonsense altogether.
3) Feedback is a good thing.
Everyone loves compliments but hearing “this is great” all the time will never help you get better. Remember, you’re an apprentice. This is learning time, and you need to find yourself mentors that will push you to the next level. The people who compliment everything you do don’t really care about helping you. The people who take the time to give you constructive feedback about your work are the ones who will make you great at it.
4) Don’t surprise your boss.
If there’s bad news coming, deliver it when you know about it and do it in private – not in a meeting room full of people. To an extent, part of your job is to make sure your boss looks good and preparing him or her for what’s coming is part of that. Least you think that this is all one-sided, the advice I’d give your boss is to support you publicly, give you the resources to be successful but provide an environment where it’s ok to fail, and generally make you look like a rock star. Not all bosses are created equal, and there are some really awful ones out there….but the good ones understand this. Have their back as much as you’d like them to have yours.
5) Pursue side projects.
Do some consulting on the side if the work interests you – not only will it help you get better at your day job by building your skill set faster, but it will also allow you to explore all that’s out there. And here’s something your employers don’t want you to know: They are not entitled to know everything you do outside of work. If it doesn’t have to do with your job, and doesn’t violate any non-competes you may have had to sign, then you do not have to tell them, and will probably be better off keeping it private.
What advice would you give to new college graduates? Leave a comment!
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