This summer I imagine that many young people will be entering the workforce and beginning their career for the first time. It can be exciting and daunting all at the same time for many college grads. As I look back at my time after college, I can say that I was no exception. After completing my BA, I innocently thought that the world would be at my fingertips and that I would have many options. The reality could not be further from the truth.
It took months for me to secure a position after college; consequently, I went back to work at at the same grocery chain — Rainbow Foods — that employed me during high school. There were many times I thought, did I really go to one of the best Liberal Arts colleges in the nation to ring up a bag of groceries? But after several interviews, I finally was able to secure a position for a small software company doing marketing and business development. But in my deepest of hearts, I knew that there was something more for me out there.
After working for the aforementioned small firm, I decided to go back to school to continue my education in business. In between my first and second years of business school, I did an internship with the world’s largest chip maker, Intel Corporation. It was at this that point in time I knew that my career was taking shape and going in the direction that I wanted it to go. After joining Intel full-time, I stayed there for 13 years doing roles in business development, product marketing, and supply chain management.
As I look back now in hindsight, I am very grateful for the experiences that I went through right out of college — good, bad, and indifferent. But as my career progressed, I know deep down that I would have made other choices if I knew what I know now. So it begs the question, if I were to meet a younger version of myself, what would I say? Or, what advice would I give to a newly minted college graduate who recently joined the workforce?
“Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” Eleanor Roosevelt
- Own Your Career Like it’s Your Best Possession: We live in a world filled with possessions that come and go but our career stays with us. This is something that we have to manage with thoughtful care and planning. Nobody can do this but you. So take great pride in your resume, your reputation, your brand, your acumen, and your track-record because these are all yours and yours only. By doing so, you will “never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.”
- Remember that you are not irreplaceable: The reality is somebody can do your job just as well if not better than you so never got too overly confident. On the flip side, if you want to leave an organization but have concerns about what impact your departure will have on the organization, think again. Trust me, they will move on just fine so do not be afraid to spread your wings and try new things.
- Stay True and Genuine: Sometimes we get caught up in always having answers to questions that come our way and many times, we find ourselves “winging it.” But never lose your genuine self no matter how busy or how much pressure you may experience to get a job done. If you are asked a question in a one-one-one or in a boardroom with a lot of people, it’s ok to say that “we are looking into that right now” or “I do not know right now but I will follow-up.” People who speak with hot air are easy to spot so never fall into that trap.
- Greatness is a Journey, Not a Sprint: You have greatness within you…just give yourself time to get there. This is not a race, but rather a journey with hills and valleys along the way. You will experience triumph and failures but you will become stronger and resolute as a result. So embrace the journey and let your greatness come through in the process.
- Write Your Career Plan with a Pencil: President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that “Plans are worthless but planning is everything.” Always have a plan and goal as you navigate your career but be ready to call an audible and be flexible. Life will come at you with curve balls; the people who are ready for these life changes are the ones who are most likely to excel and achieve. So, while it is very important to have an individual career plan, be empowered to tweak and even re-write your plan as things change.
If you are a recent college graduate and have just entered the workforce, I encourage you to remember and practice these 5 principles. By doing so, I am confident that your career will take your places, stretch you, and make you grow professionally and even personally. You will go through trying and difficult times — perhaps like I did after college even — but those experiences will make you stronger and even more driven. And finally, never forget to pay it forward by passing your own experience and wisdom to a younger person along the way. Trust me, they will never forget it.