So you’ve just graduated from college. Congratulations. Even though it was a long time ago, I’ll never forget how I felt. I was so apprehensive about joining the workforce, never having worked in an office with professionals before. Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t but it’s different than anything else you’ve ever experienced. Before now, you were an intern or a student-on-loan (or the boss’s kid). Regardless, it’s different now.
The economic grief that began in earnest last fall makes things different too. Every company needs every employee to produce more for the same or less money. Many things are contracting. Just because you landed a job doesn’t mean you have it made. You need to fill your position. If you fail, there are many other people ready to fill your spot.
Begin now to demonstrate self-leadership and take control of your career. Every business needs workers who can exercise leadership principles. Leading yourself first is a prerequisite to future leadership roles. You can begin right now by learning six things the rest of us would like you to know. The sooner you learn these things and realize they’re not bad, the sooner your career will truly take off. Most grads take 6 months to 4 years (or longer) to learn some of these pointers. You will gain time and traction in your career the sooner you take these hints.
1. You Don’t Know As Much As You Think
Whether you graduated summa cum laude from MIT or you completed a one-year training program from a technical school, there are some things you just don’t know. The first and biggest obstacle to solving any problem is understanding it. You’ll save yourself and your coworkers a lot of agony if you start from the assumption that you don’t already have the answers and work forward. (My apologies to everyone I worked with for the first 5 years after I graduated!)
2. Make Your Boss Successful
Your job description is the means. Making your boss successful is the end goal. True, your company was not created for this purpose, but it is organized so that the people at the top are the ones tasked with the company’s main goals and objectives. Ideally your boss will align his or her own success with the company’s goals so this works out well for all. However, don’t forget, the world is less than ideal. When in doubt, you need to make your boss successful and let the rest of the details work themselves out. Of course don’t break any laws and if your boss is a real jerk, you still have to make them somewhat successful since they’re a gatekeeper to your next job. The sooner you understand this principle, the better off you’ll be. (Bad bosses require additional thoughts that we’ll document in another post.)
3. Keep Learning – True Leaders Never Stop Learning
Many colleges would have you believe that now that you’re a graduate, you know what you need to in order to succeed in business. They’re right. But the knowledge you need is knowing how to learn. They didn’t give you a fish, they showed you how to use a rod and reel. College can’t really teach you great detail about business. Just the nature of publishing textbooks makes most of the information you learned at least two – five years old when you learned it. The world moves faster than that. Some say that 20% of everything you know becomes obsolete every year. Unless you got a PhD in some extreme science or learned some new programming language that no one else knows, you weren’t hired for your knowledge. You were hired for your effort and your promise. Blow your employer’s mind by learning their business, asking as many questions as possible and doing what you’re told for a while – a long while. Eventually, you’ll start to get an idea when it’s time to take the lead.
4. Your Job Definition Is “Add Value”
Please don’t become the sheriff of your job definition. If anyone with more seniority than you asks you to do something, do it cheerfully. If necessary, ask your boss if you can do it. Be seen as a volunteer if at all possible. I’ve been through several layoffs and many times, the people with the most well defined jobs are the ones to go. The people who can do many different things and who are appreciated by the most people tend to find a way to stick around. Become valuable by producing value for others within your company, as long as your supervisor goes along and you honor your commitments. (It’s always bad to look good at your supervisor’s expense, but that’s for another article.) Become a leader by being willing to serve your team. You may hit a snag in the short run, but you’ll never regret doing your best. Good supervisors and good companies appreciate people that can create value.
5. Make Your Team Successful
What do your teammates need in order to succeed? They need you to make your targets, honor your commitments and keep your excuses to yourself. Invest extra time rather than fail to hit a target. If you make a mistake, make it right. Apologies and excuses mean much less than making the effort to make something right. Be someone everyone can trust. If, after a while you feel like you’re the only trustworthy one, go somewhere else. Don’t whine about it or gossip about it. Make sure they’re sad when you split. Information and opinions live way too long and the Internet makes the world way to small. Don’t let a loser company give you bad marks on your first job. Be the best person there or the best one that ever left.
6. Absorb Responsibility and Chaos
Crap happens. If you can clean crap, regardless of it’s source, you’re more valuable. Chaos happens. Avoiding chaos typically doesn’t make it go away. It just falls to someone else to absorb it. If at all possible, be the solution and add value. There is however, a fine balance between doing someone else’s job and rolling up your sleeves and pitching in. That difference (at least initially) is being asked or asking. While you’re learning the business, listen for people who need help. People will ask you to pitch in with things. (Some will even try to offload their whole job to you.) Check with your boss, make sure you understand your priorities, and pitch in when you’re able. Your boss will help you know when something a peer asked you to do is unnecessary. And by all means, hit your targets.
Other than that, Congratulations! You’re a graduate. We need you, our world needs you, but we need you to develop your leadership skills and reach your potential. You’ll do fine, but if you can start out on the proper path, you will make things easier on yourself and your coworkers for the long run.