Many of you walked across the stage and received your diplomas this weekend. From this moment on, your life will be broken into years, not semesters. There’s not a syllabus to show you what to expect next. There are no rubrics to help you know if you’re on the right track. And, you can’t refer to your cumulative GPA to see if your work is good enough.
Five years ago I faced the same challenges. And, in writing notes to my graduating interns, I realized there were a few things I wanted all new grads to know. Here are my tips for the Class of 2015:
Create a personal board of directors. You need mentors to advise you in many different areas of your career. Who will you turn to when you are facing a terrible boss? Do you know the intricacies of negotiating a job offer? How can you gracefully give two weeks notice without burning bridges? These might be the situations you’ll face in your first few years.
You don’t need to officially ask people to serve on your board. Instead, make a list of people you trust and respect. Meet them for coffee when you’re in the area. Ask if you can pick their brain for some advice. These people can help guide you in the first few years of your career.
Network like your career depends on it … because it does. If you already have a job, you’ll either be itching for a promotion or a career move by next May. Start your first few weeks out strong in your first job by asking to meet your new coworkers for coffee or lunch. Get to know them. Find out how you might be able to help them in the future.
If you don’t have a job, you need to be setting up informational interviews instead of reading this blog post. Every career move I’ve made was possible in some sort of way because of the people I knew.
Lastly, don’t let your network down. When someone gives you a reference or helps you get a job interview, they just put their reputation on the line. Sometimes it’s not just your bridge that’s at risk of catching fire when you don’t follow through.
Forget about your age and they will, too. I always forget that my senior interns are only about 21 years old. Often, in terms of maturity and vision, they are so much older.
Don’t be intimidated by your coworkers who are old have more wisdom. If you present yourself as a competent young professional, that is how the great majority will see you. Remember, age is just a number. What you’ve know and can do, as well as the impact you’re making on the organization, are the things that truly matter to your coworkers and boss.
Understand intention and perception. You may be perceived in a way that you don’t expect or never intended. Maybe your personality type is perceived as abrasive to some. Maybe you’re too blunt. Think about how you portray yourself and how your boss and coworkers will view you through their own lenses. One of the things I’ve learned is that sometimes people find me to be too direct. As I became aware of this, I found strategies that helped me soften my approach when needed.
Become a mentor. Think about who helped you get to where you are today. My life is a sum of choices I made because of the people who influenced those choices. You probably can say the same. Now, it’s your turn. Be open and honest about your first few years in the workplace with students you meet. Use your connections to help them get their first jobs. Mentoring can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
What’s your advice for the Class of 2015?
Like this career advice AND zombies? Check out 10 Career Lessons from “The Walking Dead.”