Summer is finally here, and with it comes an influx of new graduates and interns entering the workforce and ready to start their professional lives. While your years of classes, projects, midterms and finals may have prepared you to land the job, continued success within your position is solely up to you. Here are some of the top survival tips for new grads in the workplace on what it takes to build a fulfilling and successful career:
- Learn to network – Most people either don’t know how or don’t enjoy meeting new people; however, once you start a new job it’s extremely valuable for you to network with folks in your industry for a number of reasons. New contacts can lead to new projects, new opportunities (both personally and professionally), or even new friends. The more connections you make, the more people you can help or even contact when you need help. Think about networking as building yourself a support system. There is no shame in asking for help. So much wisdom, experience and insight can be gained from friends and colleagues who have already been in your shoes and learned what it takes to succeed in any number of situations. So the next time you’re eating lunch at your desk or standing at an event by yourself, get up and introduce yourself to someone because you never know where the conversation might lead.
- Figure out what you want to do early – You just completed four years of school focusing mostly on your chosen major. If you’re lucky, you know it’s truly your life’s passion and that’s why you chose it in the first place. But if you’re like the rest of us, you likely still don’t know exactly want to do with your life. Even years after graduation, some people still don’t figure out what they want! The key to being successful is to take chances early on in your career to find out what you want for your life. The hope is that you’ll land on something that doesn’t even feel like real work to you. If you’re unsure about your passion, think about how you would answer some of the following questions: What are you most passionate about? What do you do really well? If money or time weren’t an issue, what would you choose to do with your life? Now that you have some ideas in your head, go out and explore them!
- Find a mentor – When you were in school, who did you go to when you needed help or advice? Most likely you reached out to your academic counselor or a resident advisor. Well, in the real world these individuals don’t exist. You might get lucky and have a manager who is approachable and easy to talk to, but this may not always be the case. When this happens, you’re best bet is to find a good mentor. A proper mentor can help you navigate almost any situation in the workplace, whether it’s gaining general business acumen, figuring out your career path and ways to further develop your skills, or serve as a sounding board to test your ideas. Having a mentor will put you one step ahead of your counterparts and will hold you accountable to achieving your goals. If your workplace doesn’t have a formal mentor program and you have trouble finding someone you work with, try reaching out to professional associations or non-profit organizations in your interested field.
- Think like an owner – In order to get ahead and get noticed, it’s important that you take your work seriously. Most company owners have a “roll up your sleeves” attitude and will literally do what it takes to get the job done and succeed. Having this same attitude early on in your career will get you the type of attention you need to enjoy success as well. Take pride in your work and every client interaction as if it were going to impact the company’s bottom line.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions – Despite what some people may think, the internet doesn’t always have all the answers, so how else are you going to learn if you don’t ask questions? The reason why most people are afraid to speak up is due to a fear of being seen as thoughtless or incompetent, but the reality is no one knows everything there is to know about everything. Once you accept this truth, you should feel more comfortable speaking up in meetings and questioning everything and anything you don’t understand. We need to rely on the knowledge of others to help us advance in our fields. Sooner or later you’ll be answering those same questions for someone else! Both scenarios reflect well on you and leads me to our next tip.
- Take pride in your personal brand – Personal branding is when you see yourself and your career as a brand and take steps to purposely groom it so others see you the way you see yourself. Think about how hard companies like McDonald’s, Apple, Chipotle or Verizon go to protect their image, and apply the same principal to yourself. Do you think you are an action-oriented, hardworking, ambitious individual who displays leadership qualities and meets company goals? Likely you are, but just because you think this about yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that it is what others see. The good news is that there are certain things you can do to help others see these qualities in you as well. For starters, make sure that your social media appearance represents your personal brand. If you are connected to any of your co-workers or clients via social media channels, beware that any tweet you send, any status update you make, and every picture you share contributes to your personal brand. Be cautious, and purposeful in what you post. Another way to positively impact your personal brand is to volunteer for new assignments or find other ways to produce value for your company. Being involved will keep your name and face top of mind with the people you want to be noticing you. When others hear your name, you want them to remember you as the go-getter that you are. Lastly, there is nothing wrong with tooting your own horn, as long as you do it in a positive way. Complement that with acknowledging the accomplishments of your peers as well. You should always be confident about your work and its okay to share your excitement with others about it.
- Get involved – As mentioned above, being involved will keep your name and face top of mind. The more people see you, the more they remember you. Does your company host employee engagement events or sponsor after-work activities? If so, it’s in your best interest to show up as often as possible. Not only will your co-workers get to know you better, but the next time the management team is discussing promotions, everyone at the table will know exactly who you are. Plus, having friends at the office also happens to make you a happier employee and promotes a better work-life balance.
- Never stop learning – Even if you’re good at what you do, you can never be the best if you don’t keep evolving. Depending on your field, new technologies can replace old methods and processes, and it’s important that you stay on top of these changing trends. However, in addition to knowing everything there is to know in your field, you also want to make yourself indispensable, so learning new skills is equally important. If you are thinking like an owner as you should, then you are also thinking of ways that will save the company time and money. In order to continue your success in the workplace, never stop seeking knowledge.
- Give back – Whether you donate money or time, giving back is both beneficial to you and your health, and to the community around you. Often times recent graduates feel like they have nothing to offer, but the reality is that you may have more to offer than you think. Just because you aren’t a seasoned professional yet doesn’t mean you don’t have any advice for those who haven’t yet walked in your footsteps. As mentioned above, not only is it beneficial for you to find a mentor for yourself, but it’s also just as worthwhile for you to find a mentee. You never know what you can learn from helping a younger generation. Additionally, another excellent way to give back is to join and participate in professional societies or organizations. Writing technical papers or organizing a technical session will not only enhance your brand and reputation, but it will also bring positive attention to your firm. In addition to professional opportunities, find a charity organization that you’re passionate about and get involved. Giving back to the community will help make you a better-rounded professional and give you additional opportunities to grow your network at the same time.
- Have fun – Do you wake up happy and excited to start your day? Are you inspired and motivated to work hard? If you answered “no” to these questions then you aren’t having enough fun. People who don’t enjoy their time at work become complacent and are less likely to invest in their future there. There are a number of reasons why people stop having fun at work – maybe they’re not feeling challenged enough, or they’re overworked, or maybe they feel there aren’t enough growth opportunities for them. The bottom line is that if you are unhappy it is up to you to change this for yourself so that you keep progressing in your career. If you can’t find happiness where you are, consider looking for new opportunities where you can. Life is short!
Ultimately, everyone is looking for their own idea of happiness – that feeling you have when all the pieces of your life just seem to fit together perfectly. Take charge of your professional life now. In most cases, we’ll all be working for 40 or more years, so make the most of it. With these tips in mind, know that you are on the right track to achieving success and happiness as you start your new career off on the right foot.