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Career Advice for New College Graduates


Editor's Note: Much of this advice is practical for anyone in the workplace. But if you find this of value, please pass this on to a recent grad or emerging leader.


By John Millen

Congratulations on your college graduation!

You might have heard amazing commencement speeches on Zoom with advice on your role in changing the world; on thinking globally but acting locally; on finding your bliss and living your dreams.

That is all good and inspirational advice. You should follow your dreams.

But as a veteran coach to CEOs and other leaders and entrepreneurs, I'd like to offer you some practical advice to get you started wherever your journey begins.

These ideas come from my own observations and experiences of success and failure over the past 25 years.

Here are nine strategies to help you be successful in your early career:

1. Start with face-to-face
You have the most amazing technology in history in the palm of your hand. That smartphone of yours gives you the potential to communicate with anyone in the world.

Yet, as a human being, the most important communication of your life will happen face to face – looking into another person’s eyes. Email, text, even voice calls will not replace in-person communication.

The moments that matter most in your life will be you looking into people's eyes and talking, whether to one person, ten people, or one thousand. Develop your skills in talking face to face.

2. Get good at online video
Having said that face-to-face will always rule, the reality is that much of your interaction will be online. Master the art of video presentations and interaction. Here are some strategies I provided recently: 7 Ways to Nail Your Remote Communication.

My top strategy: master the skill of paying attention: show interest, ask questions and stay off of your phone as much as possible. While you've grown up managing inputs from multiple sources, science has found that the human brain is not capable of multi-tasking.

We have to switch our attention back and forth continuously. You might be great at that, but people who are paying you money will value your complete focus on the task at hand, especially as you are establishing yourself.

3. Listen more than you talk
You no doubt have great ideas and you see the silly things people do in the workplace. When you’re first settling in, make sure you listen much more than you talk.

There will be plenty of time to offer up your good ideas. If you want people to think you’re really smart, listen carefully to the smart things they say and repeat them back at other times, so they know you’ve got it.

4. Focus on people
Whatever field you enter in business or nonprofits, your organization will have a mission. Keep your eye on the people affected by that mission.

People and organizations most often make mistakes because they lose sight of the most important people –– customers, employees, recipients, donors, or others.

You'll never go wrong by focusing on the people instead of the numbers, the politics, the organization, the bureaucracy. The power is with the people. Direct your attention to the people.

5. Build relationships
Speaking of people, you should concentrate on creating real relationships with the people in your organization. Not just the higher-ups, but also the people all around you at every level. Anything you have or will achieve in life is the result of people and your relationships.

This will always be true. In the past, it was your parents, teachers, coaches, or friends. In the future, take time to build relationships that will create your success.

6. Never burn a bridge
Just as in college and the rest of your life, there will be people you can’t stand. Don’t permanently kill those relationships by some impulsive action that will make you feel good today.

The person you have a problem with today may well be your friend, ally, or partner tomorrow. If you burn the bridge and destroy the relationship, you'll never get the chance. To protect yourself, don't let people push your buttons.

7. Be a leader
You may not have the title, but you should think and act like a leader. Your success will come from your ability to influence others in a positive way. Observe what leaders do – both good and bad – and emulate the best of what you learn.

My first job out of college was in sales and marketing for Procter & Gamble, where they would tell me "you’re always selling yourself, your ideas, and your company." This idea has been one of my most powerful forces during decades in business.

8. Persevere
This is probably the most important factor in your success in life. Don’t give up too easily. Become someone who stays positive and does the hard work even when things aren’t going well.

I've seen it time and time again: When the average person gives up, it is around the time that they were about to breakthrough.

Fight for yourself, your beliefs and your ideas. Show the world your passion and keep fighting until the end. Some people say that 80 percent of success in life is showing up. Keep showing up.

9. Enjoy Yourself
Very little is as serious as it seems to you at this time. Don’t take it all too seriously. Have fun in everything you do.

Congratulations college graduate!


* Note from John Millen:

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