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10 Tips for Graduates on Work Life From People Who Have Been There


After graduation, the pursuit of a career can appear to be a daunting task. Everyone has advice and rules. Follow your dreams. Follow the money. Never be late. Never be early. Preparing to enter the work force is sometimes harder work than the actual job. So, what exactly do you really need to know when you graduate from college? Take a look at 10 pieces of advice from people who have been there.

Gretchen Gavett of Harvard Business Review asked various writers what graduates need to know about entering the work-force. Here are summaries of ten of our favorites.


1.  Don’t Compare Yourself to Other People

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When entering the work force, you may be faced with various elements that make you wonder whether you’re going to ever get anywhere. “You’ve just got to hang in there — there’s no other way to win,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Maybe you aren’t landing the job you dreamed of or getting the salary offers you once expected. Keep it moving along and one way to do this, is by not comparing yourself to others. Focus on you and what you have accomplished and whether or not you are improving in the areas that need improvement.

2.  Be a Problem Solver

According to Daniel Gulati, tech entrepreneur and coauthor of Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, “The tough, thorny problems are the most valuable ones…” Instead of running from or avoiding problems, tackle them head-on. These problems will likely ending up being the most valuable to you and will result in a greater feeling of accomplishment. Being known in the workplace as “the problem solver” is also an important title that will lead to more opportunities in the future.

3.  Be the Most Valuable Player

“In a world of layoffs, outsourcing, and industry disruption, the only “career insurance” you can get is through figuring out the answer to one particular question: how can you make yourself truly valuable professionally?” Dorie Clark, strategy consultant and author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.

These days, simply graduating and working hard may not be enough to set you apart from the rest of the people entering the workplace. Learn skills that you weren’t taught in college, solve problems that no one else has readily addressed, earn gratitude by helping others. Stand out from the crowd, because hanging back and blending in will likely not be enough.

4.  Follow the Road Less Traveled

Although there are tons of paths you can take that will lead to some form of success, many of those paths have been designed by those before us, and may not be the greatest path for you. Try a different path and follow the one that although uncertain and scary, leads you to what you want to do and where you want to end up. Even if it seems crazy to the people around you, there is a certain amount of satisfaction and reward to be gained from occasionally coloring outside the lines. 

“You can dare to be different. You can break the rules. And while some will scold you for it, others will shower you with outsized reward.” Maxwell Wessel, member of the Forum for Growth and Innovation, Harvard Business School.

5.  If You Network Right, Where You Work Won’t Matter

In the era of all things social, it matters less who you work for and how big the company is. You have the opportunity to network with anyone across the globe that you choose. Form a network of talented people and use the tools that are available to achieve your goals. You will find that the relationships you form are far more helpful in becoming successful than the size of the company you happen to work for. Nilover Merchant, author of 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, advises us to “look to the relationships you’ll have because these people with which you’ll work hold the keys to what you’ll create and achieve.”

6.  Open Doors With Your First Job

Your first job may not end up being the job that throws you your retirement party. Many people change jobs and career fields multiple times before ending up in the one that they stick with. “You want your first job to open even more doors than were open upon graduation.” Whitney Johnson, co-founder of Rose Park Advisors and author of Dare-Dream-Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream.

7.  Figure Out What Really Motivates You

James Allworth, co-author of How Will You Measure Your Life?, says Understand the way your mind works in relation to motivation” and be honest. Consider the things that might motivate you, but only keep you from being dissatisfied at work. Figure out those things that result in happiness and satisfaction, and not just the feeling of “well, I’m not unhappy”. It is generally the really meaningful factors that lead us to happiness and job satisfaction, rather than the fancy titles and money, which simply prevent us from being unhappy.

8.  Realize that You Are the Shot Caller

According to Amy Jen Su, co-founder of Isis Associates and co-author with Muriel Maignan Wilkins of Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence, advises graduates toBe conscious, stay awake, and live with your eyes wide open. Own your life and career. Accept the trade-offs inherent in every decision and choice you make.” You make the decisions in every part of your life. Not your friends and not your family. You have choices and will need to not only accept the good or bad decisions you make, but choose how you will handle those decisions. 

9.  Do What You Enjoy

You’ll hear this often, many times from people who did not do what they enjoyed and wish that they had. Success isn’t just promotions and huge salaries. Part of being  successful in the workplace is nailing down your dream job and being able to walk into work each day, genuinely happy and believing you are doing exactly what you have always wanted to do. “Many times “success” will lead you to promotions which will become the envy of your friends, while leaving you empty and pulling you away from what you really love to do.” Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, author of Great People Decisions.

10. Do the Work Everyone Else Hates

If by chance you end up working in a career with tasks that everyone else dreads to take on, be the person that volunteers for these tasks and then own them. Successfully completing a junk task that no one else wants to deal with not only results in gratitude but gives you the opportunity to showcase talents that may otherwise be missed. As Rafi Mohammed, pricing strategy consultant and author of The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow, says “Volunteer for the garbage.” It isn’t glamorous but may help you get where you want to go, a little faster.

Above all, consider and weigh the advice from people who have been there, but remember that in the end, it’s all up to you.

Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear from you! Do you have a tip for graduates? What was the best advice you were given about work life? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments!

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(Photo Credit: By Sakeeb Sabakka/fotopedia)

Christina Majaski
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Sameh Sharaf
Sameh Sharaf

I agree with all the points taken in this article except the last one which mentions ‘garbage volunteering.’ It may sound great if you’re a newcomer or a fresh team member for a company so you can prove yourself and get the attention and gratitude of your boss the people working with you. But if you’re a core team player or if your boss is someone who won’t remember what you did, then don’t bother. Your time is more precious… Read more »

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