Is Your Grad Ready for the Real World? 22 Pieces of Advice You’ll Be Glad You Shared [part 1] In part one of this two-part series, here are the first 10 of 22 pieces of success-oriented advice to pass on to your graduate. BY BEN CARPENTER
Make sure your graduate is equipped with real-world knowledge to go along with their education.
“ Most professionals are happiest doing what they are good at, while pursuing other passions—that their careers give them the means to finance—on the side.”
You’ve fretted about your child’s future from kindergarten on. You’ve zoom-focused on homework and grades, worried that he or she wouldn’t have the study skills and discipline to make it once they got out from under your thumb, and (of course!) spent sleepless nights worrying they weren't making the most of their college education. Now that they're finally ready to graduate, the last thing you want is for your child to stall at the real-world starting line after all the hard work they—and you!—have put in.
I know from experience how nerve-wracking it can be to watch a child leave the nest, especially when there’s so much about the real world he or she has yet to learn. I’ll never forget the panic I felt when I realized that while my daughter, Avery, had received a top-notch academic education, she had no clue how the working world, well, worked.
After a year-long job search, Avery finally received a promising job offer in her field of choice. Then she sent me an e-mail with the subject line, "Is this okay to send?" Until I stopped her, Avery was about to ask her new boss for a later start date so she’d have more time to "tie up loose ends" (i.e., move out of her parents’ home and into her own apartment).
Fortunately, I was able to redirect Avery before she inadvertently did any damage. But this instance really underscored to me how important it is that we parents actively guide our graduates through this uncertain time.
Here, I share advice to pass on to your graduate before diplomas are handed out:
1. Do what you’re good at, not what you love. Much of the career advice that’s doled out these days encourages young people to "follow their dreams" and "feed their passion." Sure, you want your child to enjoy his or her career, but you also want them to become and remain solvent instead of holding out for the "perfect" job that might never materialize.
That’s why you should underscore to your child that choosing a career they can do well, rather than one that seems fun and exciting, might be the best bet. Be sure to point out that this strategy isn’t as unappealing as it might sound, because the satisfaction you get from doing your job well will far outweigh how entertaining it is. From personal experience, as well as from observing family, friends, and coworkers, I can state that most professionals are happiest doing what they are good at, while pursuing other passions—that their careers give them the means to finance—on the side.
2. Try out different fields when you’re young. For most, it generally takes at least a few tries to find the best field, company, and/or position from which to build a career. Just think about the number of times you’ve changed jobs over the years. If your experience was anything like mine, you’ll probably agree that your rookie years—when you’re young and before you have children—are the ideal time to aggressively seek out the best match for your personality and talents.
All of my major career moves occurred before my wife and I had children. They were relatively easy because I didn’t have to worry about uprooting my entire family, and financial concerns weren’t as pressing. Of course, when you’re discussing this with your child, be sure to include the caveat that no one should leave a paying job—even if they’re unhappy with it—before they have another one lined up.
3. Always ask yourself, "What’s my edge?" In other words, what makes you unique and different? Why should other people pay attention to you? What do you have to offer? What gives you an edge over the competition?
Of course you think your child is talented and special, and it’s likely true. Now, they just need to figure out what makes him or her stand out from their peers and apply that distinction to a multitude of professional scenarios. If they're starting a business, their edge can help define their product or service’s niche. If they're going after a promotion, it can help differentiate them from co-workers. In all situations, it will help them define how to become their personal best.
4. Think of your boss and your company before yourself. This principle was the driving force behind my insistence that my daughter not ask her new boss for a later start date, and it extends well beyond the first day of work. Make sure your graduate understands that when you’re a rookie in the big leagues, you have to prove that you’re going to be an asset to the team, not a drain on its resources or a liability for the coach. Often, that means putting your boss’s wants and needs ahead of your own.
My advice is that rookie employees need to show up before the boss… leave after she does… schedule personal appointments after business hours… work six months before taking vacation days… respond to phone calls and e-mails ASAP (even at night, on the weekends, or during vacations).
I get that many of these things don’t sound like a young person’s idea of fun. Your child might even think some of them are "unfair." But remember—it’s their job to make the boss’s life easier, not the other way around. Everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up. When your child shows they're willing to sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team, they'll have gotten a huge head start on being named Rookie of the Year.
5. Be creative and bold. To the dismay of many graduates and their parents, the days of being handed a job just because you have a diploma are long gone. There are millions of job seekers with the same qualifications as your child, so if you want him or her to receive one of a limited number of opportunities, they'll need to stand out.
Instead of sending out a resume that will probably get lost in HR Purgatory, a creative and bold candidate might stand outside Company XYZ’s offices with a cardboard sign that reads, "Please let me tell you why I’m the person you want to fill the junior systems analyst position you posted on monster.com." Or your child might take a page from a friend of mine’s book: After identifying her dream job, she walked right into the "big boss’s" office, handed him her resume, and told him she’d call him later that afternoon.
My point is, the tougher the situation, the less your child has to lose—so the more radical their actions should be. The worst that can happen is that your child doesn’t get the job.
6. Comfort and success rarely go hand in hand. In my book, I write about liking and respecting my first real boss, "The Professor" (so named for his resemblance to the Professor on Gilligan’s Island), tremendously. However, the more I learned while at the job, the more determined I became to move on. While The Professor was a great teacher and salesman, he wasn’t fully engaged in his career. And none of my other colleagues seemed very "amped up" about their jobs, either.
The tipping point came when I was reprimanded because of entertainment expenses, not because I was spending too much, but because I was spending too little. The Professor was concerned their department would have its entertainment budget cut if I didn’t "shape up" quickly. That’s when I realized that along with most other people in the department, The Professor’s number-one goal was to milk his career, not maximize it.
I realized that if I stayed in this position, I might be comfortable, but I’d always be stuck in a professional backwater. I made the difficult choice to leave this cushy environment for a higher-stakes opportunity. At some point, your child might also have to decide which is more important: sticking with the familiarity of the status quo or taking a chance on reaching the next rung of the ladder. Remind them that opportunity won’t find them within their comfort zone.
7. Stay in the driver’s seat of your career. After making the decision to leave the safety of The Professor’s nest, I was told by my employer’s HR department that sure, I could transfer to a new department, but first, I’d have to stick with my current job for three more years! My response? "I will give you two months to help me get transferred; then I am going to start interviewing elsewhere."
A few weeks later, I was taking the subway to my new position in the department I’d asked to be transferred to. I was glad that my unorthodox tactic paid off, but I was fully prepared for it not to—I really would have been interviewing elsewhere two months later! Remember, life is short, and the same opportunities rarely come twice. Instruct your child not to simply "go along for the ride," especially when his or her goals and potential for success are at stake. Encourage them to take an active hand in charting their course forward.
8. Don’t agree to anything you don’t fully understand. Once your graduate gets their foot in the door, they'll likely want to impress their colleagues and higher-ups at every turn. And in an attempt to avoid looking like they don't know what they're doing, they may be tempted to feign understanding and nod their head, even though they really have no clue what’s going on. Caution them against this strategy!
Early in my career, a client bullied me into saying "yes" to a request I didn’t understand—and it cost my employer $25,000. While covering up your child's ignorance might not come with such a steep price tag, it’s still something they should avoid at all costs. Remind them that their integrity, credibility, and reputation—and possibly job—are all at stake. It’s always better to swallow your pride and say, "I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I need you to explain." Oh—and that’s just as applicable in your child’s personal dealings as it is in their career.
9. When you’re upset, choose to look forward, not back. You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react and move forward. The sooner your child learns this lesson, the more resilient they’ll be.
You know what it’s like to be handed an undesirable task at work, be blamed for your boss’s mistake, or be interrupted by an overzealous colleague during a client meeting for the 1,000th time. You also know that you can choose to focus on your anger and irritation for hours, or even days; however, that doesn’t do you a bit of good. Instead, in these situations, advise your child to channel their thoughts and efforts toward playing the hand they've been dealt in a way that will benefit them most.
10. Learn to appreciate diverse work styles. In life and in work, we all tend to gravitate toward others who think like us and who see the world through a similar lens. However, if your child doesn’t push them self past the familiar, they'll be severely limiting their opportunities.
Yes, it can be difficult, uncomfortable, and downright frustrating to work with people who take a different approach from you. For example, maybe you’re a Type A personality who is totally frustrated by your co-worker’s seat-of-her-pants approach to projects. Remember, though, by shutting her out, you’ll also deprive yourself of her creative solutions and outside-the-box insights.
No matter what the situation is, encourage your child to always try to seek out and utilize the team’s talents, even if they don't understand the methods of others. You can never be sure you have the best answer until you’ve explored all viewpoints.