10 Important Pieces of Career Advice for Graduates (and Those Past Graduation)

Each year around graduation, I think back to the advice that I received around graduation time.  Not only have I been able to put to action much of the advice given to me, I also have learned a tremendous amount through the greatest teacher of all… experience.

Reflecting back on my career, I have been thinking about what I have learned and what I would tell my younger self if I could go back to the 90’s and talk to my high school and college self.   This is a brief list of the top ten things I would tell myself earlier in life in graduation.  Having learned (and applying these things) have helped me throughout my career and life so far.  Feel free to incorporate any of these pieces of advice into your life whether you are just starting out in your career or cruising towards retirement.

Your Life and Career Are a Marathon, Not a Sprint

It can be very easy to get caught up in comparison.  Try to avoid this trap.  In life we are all going at our own speed, and the reality is that we are only competing with ourselves. Whether comparing yourself with a Silicon Valley tycoon or a friend or co-worker who seems to have everything together, don’t believe the hype.

You can be successful at whatever you want to do on your terms and based on whatever measurements of success are meaningful for you (relationships, jobs, money, etc.).  You do not have to start a billion dollar company before you turn 28 to be successful. Take the stories you hear about those who are idolized by the media (or just about all of your friends and co-workers) with a grain of salt.

There is always a secret sauce element missing in the story of someone else’s success, and you have the chance to pursue your own type of success that will make you happy and fulfilled. As long as give life your best and you are working to constantly improve yourself, there is not much more that people (including yourself) can ask of you.

Keep in Touch with Your Peers

When you are younger, you get exposed to people of all walks of life.  Not to say that life is always easier when you are younger, but life does tend to get more complicated (rarely less complicated) as you move ahead. As you get older, you will always carry a special fondness for the people you knew when you were younger. However, it is easier to stay in touch than to find someone and get back in touch after years of neglecting one another.  Over time, relationships can get cold because the gaps in physical distances and lifestyle will widen which can make it more difficult to reconnect after losing touch. You never know who will go where in their own careers.  The people you know today will likely be able to open doors for you tomorrow, typically when you least expect it.  It is much harder to ask for something from someone you have not spoken with in twenty years.

Constantly Expand Your Network

As much as it is important to keep in touch with your current network, it is important to expand the network of people you know.  You will grow and your interests will change over time.

It is crucial to know more people, not only to keep up with the growing and adapting person you have become but also to bring fresh perspectives to your life and challenge you.

From a career standpoint, the people who will help get you the farthest are not often the people who you see the most. Typically, the people who you see and speak with the most (especially at work) have knowledge of almost the same job opportunities as you do.

The people you know and trust who are outside of your immediate circle of friends and acquaintances are usually the ones who will open up the doors when you least expect it because they aware of opportunities that you and your immediate circle were not aware of.

To help drive this point, every job I have had in my entire life from 15 years old and on was because of someone I knew or better stated because of someone who knew someone that I knew.

Don’t Rely on Social Media

Expanding your network is very important.  The social media tools of today like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn give us access to more people that we might not have access to without.

They really have made our worlds smaller in many respects.  Plus they can be a great tool for keeping in touch and knowing what is going with your network of people.

However, and this is a big however… Don’t rely just on social media for communication.  This might sound old fashioned, but nothing beats face-to-face communication for making connections with others.  If you are not able to stand up and walk to see someone, pick up the phone and call them.

Also, there is something intimate about connecting with a handwritten note.  It only takes a couple of minutes to hand write a note, and the person you give it to may hold on to it for years.

Give to Others

There is something universal about the fact that those who give are also the ones seem to receive the most from others.  This does not mean that you have to donate all of your money to charity to put this into practice. You can be giving of your time, attention, and reputation.

As you advance in your career, you will progressively have more to offer to those who come after you. Simply give of your attention by listening and sincerely helping people figure out how to achieve their goals. You can give job recommendations of those who deserve it.

The key is to give without expecting anything in return.  You will be amazed how much it comes back to you this way.

The World Is Not As Black and White as School

This makes sense.  In school you have a curriculum and goals handed to you.  When you are in school, you crave for the chance to choose and better define your own path.

Once you get out of school, not having the structured goals of school is harder to adapt to than it may sound.  Be a leader and create your own black and white.  The truest sense of a leader is someone who is able to define value that did not exist.

You will do the best in your career and life when you are able to help others mold and shape their own worlds.

Update Your Resume Regularly

Maybe I am just a resume and career nerd, but there really is something therapeutic about putting your accomplishments down on paper. It gives you a chance to review your progress in your career, and figure out if you need to alter your goals.

You can either confirm if you are on the right path and decide if you are ready to start your next job search. The reality is that you never know when you need an updated resume.  It is always a good idea to have an updated version on hand.

Picture this.  You get a call that you have been recommended as a good candidate for your dream job.  They have asked to interview you the next day.  It is never good to throw a resume together at the last minute (because it will show) or have one that leaves off your last five years of experience that makes you the ideal candidate for the job you want.

Never Get Too Comfortable

It is a good idea to write down what is like at a job in the beginning.  You come in excited ready to learn new things and are full of ideas.

Over time routine can set in, and it is easy to comfortable in a job. You may figure, “Why leave?  It is great here.”  In my experience, once you get to the point where you are at a job long enough that is not fun anymore, and you start using the routine of the job to justify staying, it is time to look for a new job.

I am not talking about leaving jobs every 3 months.  Oftentimes, you can talk to your boss about taking on new responsibilities in your current job or find a different position in your own company. Ultimately, I think we are most happy and fulfilled when we are growing.  You grow by challenging yourself.

Graduation is the exciting beginning of what can be a successful and happy life and career.

Graduation is the exciting beginning of what can be a successful and happy life and career.

Find Mentors

Within your network should certainly be your friends, colleagues, and peers.  You these people will help lift you up and be there to bounce off ideas for career goals and job searches and just generally be there for encouragement.

It is also important in my opinion to find people who have more experience and have achieved the levels of success you wish to attain.  The truth is that there is no magical formula, and life is not left to chance.  The things that have gotten others to the places you want to go can also be the things that get you to where you want to go.

Sometimes mentors can open doors that you wouldn’t have been able to open on your own. You can learn so much from people who have come before you, and you can shorten your own learning curve by learning from the successes and failures of others.

You can pick up so much more in a 30 minutes face to face conversation with a mentor than you would in months (or even years) of experience on your own.

Based on my experience mentoring others and being mentored myself, I have found the best mentor relationships to be the ones that grow on their own usually by someone seeking advice or asking questions from the potential mentor. Formal mentoring because of a company program or requirement never seem to work as well for either party.

The key to a good mentor relationship is to respect the mentor’s time, and realize that they are truly giving to you even if it is just their knowledge and time.

You Are Responsible for Your Own Career

At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own career.  There may have been a day that you could stay with a company for 35 years and simply get promoted every so often just for hard work.

The reality of today is that you have to be the driving force in your career – not your boss, not your parents, not your network of friends.  Others can help you but you have to them out.

You have to take action on all of these things we have discussed.  Update your resume.  Seek out the help and guidance of others.  Keep relationships going.   Update your resume.  Apply for job opportunities.  Sharpen your interviewing and communication skills.  Be a giver of your time and knowledge.

These things are all easy to do, but truly they are even more easy not to do.  It is the little things that make you stand out from others. When people are looking for someone for a job and need to think of the perfect candidate.  Do you think it is the people who do the best to blend in or the people who stand out in a good way who get the recommendations, the interviews, and ultimately, the jobs they want?

If you follow the principles laid out in these pieces of advice, you will be on your way to starting and progressing along in a great career. If you know of anyone who can benefit from this article, please share this on your favorite social media network.