I know this past weekend saw a lot of graduations and there are many more to come. It's hard to believe that it's been over four years since I walked the line at WKU. Sure, four years is hardly enough time to garner any substantial real world career wisdom. That said, I've still been able to learn a thing or two. Here are things I was either told or wish I was told on my last day as a student.
Learn Something From Every Opportunity
The job economy is better than when I graduated but it's still not amazing. You're probably going to have a job of some kind that you had built up in your mind as "making it." An astronomically few people land their "dream role" right out of school. That said, just because you aren't where you want to end up, doesn't mean you can't learn a thing or two.
When I was out of school, I wanted to get a job at a big flashy ad agency in downtown Chicago, having lunches in Millenium Park and having Don Draper-ish moments (minus the debauchery of course). I ended up at an incentives supplier company on the south side of Chicago. It wasn't where I had envisioned in my mind but I learned a TON working there. I was able to garner a lot of B2B marketing experience, meet some cool people and learn job and life skills that I still have to take advantage of and use today. It was a bigger opportunity than I saw on the surface and helped me eventually get to other great options down the road.
Don't Overlook the Menial Tasks
We've already determined you may not get a flashy job right out of the gate. You may get a job at the company you want to be at...but there will be tasks you don't like. There will be days where you could be doing nothing but filling in spreadsheets, stuffing envelopes or doing other day-to-day "grunt work" that doesn't feel "strategic." That's okay.
That said, don't overlook these tasks. They have to be done. Only the people that do those jobs well see advancement. How could your boss trust you with heavier work if you can't be trusted with the smaller tasks? Keep chugging away and look for those small opportunities to prove yourself. They won't fall in your lap, you'll have to be ready for them.
Dont Be Intimidated by Titles
You're going to be in meetings your first year with a CEO or an "Executive VP of _________." Don't let those titles intimidate or frighten you. Be respectful of course but also remember they're human too. Not machines. They'll respect the confidence you have.
Be Willing to Take a Chance
There may be some opportunities that don't sound "safe." It may be going to a new city where you don't know anyone. It could be with a company you've never heard of. It could be taking a chance on a startup company that's in a bootstrapping mode. You're young. Be willing to take chances like that. They could end up being very fruitful opportunities. If not, I almost guarantee you'll learn something along the way. Be open to taking risks while you're still young enough to screw up and get away with it.
Live Under Your Means
This is almost counter-cultural and hard to do on a lot of entry-level salaries. That said, you don't have to try and live on the same level as your parents in your first couple of years. Stuff will happen - expensive stuff. A car's head gasket could blow on a road trip. You could have to move across the country. Something expensive could break.
It's important to live on less than what you have if all possible. Take less trips to Starbucks and make your own coffee. Go out for lunch less and pack your own during the week. I'm not advocating to not go out and have fun...you have to do once-in-a-lifetime trips or experiences with friends. However, making tiny sacrifices here and there does add up over time. When things do go wrong, you'll be able to handle it.
Give What You Can
Give to a charity. Donate time to volunteer. Your work doesn't just lie in the office. Take time to invest in other people. It doesn't have to be a huge endeavor. Resources, time and money, are finite. Don't avoid helping people because it doesn't feel impactful enough. Making a difference, even for just one person, is a big deal. If we're blessed with extra resources, we should take the time to invest in people that could benefit from what we have to offer - time, money, skills or advice.
I realize none of this is mind-blowing advice but it's what I have for the class of 2013. I'm not sure if it's helpful but it's all I have for now. Good luck!