Advice for New College Graduates

More than 3 million college seniors from across the country recently graduated, and are entering a real world that is unstructured, rapidly changing, and wide open. Making a successful transition from college to the corporate world is not going to be easy, It will take precise planning, effort, execution, and even retraining. At least 16 years of schooling have taught these graduates not only theories and concepts, individual performance, and other skills needed to turn in stellar work, but some bad habits as well. They’re often found waiting to be told what to do, rather than instinctively taking the initiative to join or even lead the team effort on a specific project.

Well, grads, listen up. The days of gorging, purging, and forgetting are over. You need to learn new skills—such as establishing your personal brand, understanding office politics, and creating a professional network. As you embark on your new career, you will face situations with your co-workers or your supervisors that you may not know how to handle. Here are some problems that may surface in the first year on the job, and some advice on how to handle them.

You don’t like your job. You should have done your homework during the interview process by asking questions and taking the time to meet with future co-workers. Since you’ve already started the job, it’s time to take charge of your destiny. Be proactive by finding additional projects you can take on. That doesn’t mean that you can neglect your current duties. You will be very busy for a few months. Find a way to get on more projects and more teams so that you can show the bosses skills you may not be using in your current role. You might find yourself being asked to do similar projects in the future or to move to a different position that better suits you.

Your workload is brutal. If your boss gives you the bulk of the work, forcing you to stay late while others go home early, don’t complain. This is the best compliment you can receive because it shows that your manager likes the work you do. Never turn away work, always exceed expectations, and reach out for help before you need it. When it’s time to ask for help, you can say: "Joe would be a real asset on this project. May I add him to the team?" This demonstrates your managerial skills. Remember: The more work you take on, the more opportunities you have to prove yourself.

You’re paid less than the unpaid intern. Many companies put newly hired employees on probationary periods for anywhere from 30 days to six months or more. When your managers evaluate your performance, discuss how your work has helped your office reach its targets, increase revenue, or exceed customer demands. Without complaining, explain how your work produced results. Focus on accomplishments—what your work produced in return on investment for the company or against project objectives—rather than just your job responsibilities. Without bragging, make sure you and your contributions are visible to management.

You’re suddenly in demand. You’ve already started the job, and now you have received a further job offer. Better pay doesn’t always mean a better job. You have to look at the big picture and think about your long-term goals. Are there opportunities to grow within your current company? Do you have mentors who will help you reach the next level? What will you learn now that will help you become a better marketer, engineer, or writer in the future? Talk to your manager, be honest, and ask questions about how and when you can achieve your goals by staying in your current position. Be positive, show commitment, and never undersell yourself. If you do decide to leave the company, weighing the pros and cons and thinking about your future will help you better explain to your supervisor how you came to make the difficult decision.

Remember: It is always about the company’s success, not yours.

Some final words of advice. As you evolve in the business world, you must quickly achieve several things. For starters, you need to establish your personal brand. Who are you and how are you perceived by superiors, subordinates and peers? This brand will evolve as you do in your career. In addition to establishing a brand identity, you must develop your professional network. Reach out, meet, get to know key people, and nurture those relationships. Avoid burning bridges or tarnishing your reputation, and proactively build your reputation and network by performing and exceeding expectations over time. Finally, document everything. Keep a record of your work, the results, the projects you led, and all of your accolades. This will come in handy during your annual reviews, when it’s time to ask for a raise or a promotion, and when you’re ready to look for a new job or career.

If you treat every job you do as a career, you will succeed and receive the recognition and rewards you deserve. A job is today. A career is a lifetime.