Getting Started: Career Advice for College Graduates

Every summer, there is a new class of college graduates entering the workforce for the first time. The excitement of graduation can quickly fade if a job is hard to come by — or if the only available jobs have nothing to do with a new hire’s brand-new degree. Unfortunately, not all schools and majors do a good job preparing students for a future in the corporate world, so here’s are my top pieces of career advice for college graduates. 

So, in no particular order, here are my top career development tips for new graduates (or even established employees).  

Focus on Building Relationships at Work 

Great workers pursue relationships with their colleagues and others around them in the organization. Don’t worry about the difference in your level of experience or get caught up in titles and positions; the more relationships you have, the better connected you will be and the greater likelihood your name will come up for new opportunities. Keep in mind that building good working relationships takes time, skill and respect.  

Find a Mentor 

Related to the prior point, finding an experienced professional who is willing to be a mentor to you is one of the best steps you can take in your career development. Unlike building relationships in your workplace, a mentor does not necessarily need to be at the same company as you. Find someone you respect who holds a position you want to reach at some point in your career. 

When you ask them to be your mentor, be specific about your goals and why you are coming to them. Give them a timeframe and a clear structure you envision for the relationship; if you ask for a vaguely defined, open-ended mentoring relationship you’re less likely to get a positive response. 

Learn To Be a Great Communicator 

Communication skills are essential to success in the workplace. If you have a goal or need assistance on a project but can’t effectively communicate those thoughts to your team and to those above you, your goals will never be met. Learn to follow the seven Cs of communication if you want to succeed: Communication should be clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete and courteous. And remember that communication is a two-way street; especially when you are starting out, learn to listen more than you talk. You’ll learn a great deal about your job, your workplace and your industry if you commit to listen to those around you. 

Leverage Your Perspective 

I just told you to listen more than you talk, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable input to contribute. As a new employee with a different perspective than more experienced or longstanding employees, you might just have new ideas that can kickstart your team (or company). Learn the proper channels to share suggestions, and when the time is right, share what you have to say. You don’t have to be an expert to make a meaningful contribution — and your willingness to speak up and share your insights may help you earn a more prominent seat at the table. 

Stake a Claim 

Everyone is good at something. Is there a tool or technology you have experience with that could benefit others in your company? Share your knowledge and become known as the go-to person for whatever that niche might be. Maybe you’re great with Excel, or you might have a great eye for presentation design. If you’re getting your assigned work done, don’t feel like you must always “stay in your lane.” Your skill in one area might open doors for opportunities and relationships you otherwise wouldn’t have exposure to.  

Build Your Personal Brand 

When someone brings up Amazon, Walmart, Nike or Facebook, it evokes a strong association. Your name does the same thing — your personal brand, rather than a corporate brand. If you’re not familiar with the term, a personal brand, at its most basic, is the sum of your appearance, professionalism, skills, demeanor, the way you treat others, and even how you behave and talk online. Your personal brand is as much made up of the way you carry yourself in the office as it is how you act on the weekend (and what you post to social media). Make sure that your personal brand reflects on you as you want it to; if not, invest the time and energy to change it, cultivating a professional, reliable, trustworthy reputation. 

Timing Is Everything 

If you’re consistently a minute or two late to team meetings, its possible that nobody will say anything to you about it, but rest assured that everyone will be aware of it. Commit to being not just on time, but early for your appointments and commitments. If you get to the conference room 5–10 minutes before the meeting starts and have your computer or papers ready and organized, you’ll make an impression and you’ll be much better prepared to be a meaningful contributor. Likewise, when you get an email or request for something, whether from a colleague or your boss, don’t put it off until the last minute. Cultivate the habit of responding promptly, within a few hours at most. Not only will this habit ensure you don’t let tasks fall through the cracks, your reliability and responsiveness will be noticed by those around you. 

There is so much more to building a successful career than just these tips, but I hope they will give you a leg up as you start (or continue) your professional journey. 

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