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Career Advice for New College Graduates

communication leadership
A woman kisses her daughter, a new college graduate wearing cap and gown

By John Millen 

Congratulations on your college graduation!

You may have heard amazing commencement speeches 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 35 years.

Here are 10 strategies to help you be successful in your early career:

1. Learn to be fully present

My top strategy is to master the skill of paying attention: show interest, ask questions and stay off of your phone as much as possible.

This is not easy, but if you learn to be fully present you will differentiate yourself from all generations at the workplace. You'll also experience less anxiety and greater peace of mind.

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.

Don't live in the past or anticipate the future, be fully present in this moment. It's all you have.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Enjoy Yourself

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

Congratulations college graduate!

Much of this advice is practical for anyone in the workplace. If you find this of value, please share it with a recent grad or emerging leader. 

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John Millen

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