Five pieces of career advice…that I never received.

by Ross Wade, School of COM career guy

Graduating in May? Freaking out? I totally get it. You’ve probably heard this before, but “looking for a full-time job is a full-time job.” Not only is looking for your first “real job” a lot of work, but it’s also totally distracting. How are you supposed to study or write papers when you feel compelled to check your email every five minutes to see if an employer has contacted you? I remember during my job search I checked and rechecked jobsites all day long…it was like a had a jobsite addiction.

Most of you will prepare yourselves well for the job search process. You’ll visit your career center for resume and cover letter assistance, begin networking at professional events and career fairs, participate in mock interviews, sharpen your online presence, etc. All of this is highly important, but I wish I had thought a little bit passed that my final year of college. Once you land your first job there are a whole other set of challenges and issues that can arise, and to be honest, I wasn’t really prepared for them.

 So…I offer you five pieces of career advice…that I never received:

1. Having a five-year plan is awesome…but leave room for some freestylin’.

My old motto used to be “Plan, plan, plan!” My MBTI type is ENFJ…and I’m such a HUGE “J” (judging) – I make lists for everything, I’m always early to events and meetings, I need to know as much as possible so I can make a decision as soon as possible…I just can’t help myself. Of course I love the idea of a five-year plan. My plan lists what I need to do each year to reach my next career goal, and keeps me on track as far as building skills, connecting with professionals, and implementing new ideas to help my office. However, the longer I’m a professional, the more I realize I can’t plan for everything. Once you start your career, you may realize that your skills and interests may not be as close of a match to your new job as you thought. You may find that you don’t like living in a big city as much as you thought. Out of the blue an amazing job opportunity may come your way that’s too good to pass up. Change happens. Being flexible and able to “freestyle” is important. That’s why it is really important to pay attention to what matters most to you…your values. The more you understand yourself, the more you’ll know when it’s time to stay or time for a change.

 Zenhabits is a great blog that reminds me that sometimes I just need to have the wisdom to allow things to happen.


2. Office politics and being the best new hire evaaahhh!

One of my first bosses gave me some great advice: “never come with problems, always come with solutions.” I try to remember this when I approach anyone with anything (especially managers and co-workers).

A current colleague of mine gave me some other great advice: “when you’re the new kid, be wary of the folks that immediately come up to you wanting to be your friends…they may be friendless at the office for a reason.” Now I’m not saying be suspicious of friendly folks, I’m just saying it is a good idea to lay low the first six months or so at your new job. Take the time to observe and figure out who the superstars, the gossips, and the brown nosers are. Once you get a sense of the office and its politics, you can feel more comfortable connecting and trusting colleagues. A great way to get a vibe of the office and learn more about your co-workers is to participate in office extracurriculars. Join the office kickball team or volunteer at a local non-profit with some colleagues – you’ll have fun and make some buddies at work.

Informational interviews are a great way to meet new folks and make positive impressions when you are new. When I was brand new to Elon University I made it a point to do informational meetings with directors in other offices and a couple of high level administrators. These meetings gave me a chance to ask some good questions, learn more about the history of Elon, learn some challenges and goals of other offices, and meet leaders early on that I may not have had the  chance to meet until much later (if at all).

I love lists, so here is a list of “seven deadly sins for new hires” and a list of “five tips for brand new employees.”


3. Planning for your future…grown-up style.

Along with your new job, and that paycheck, you’ll have other expenses – college loans, car payments, rent, food, bills, etc. Having a budget is important. I suggest putting together a solid budget during your job search (yup – before you even land your first gig). Know average salaries for jobs in your industry, the cost of living for the city you’d like to live in, and create a budget including all of those costs that are a part of “real life.”

I also recommend, as you are searching for jobs, that you look for companies with great retirement plans. Some companies have matching programs where if you put in a certain percentage of your annual salary, the company will match it. For example, “company X” may state that if you contribute 5% of your annual salary every year (taken out in bits each paycheck) to your retirement plan, the company will contribute 8% of your annual salary (out of their pocket) to your retirement plan as well. FREE MONEY!!! I love free money.


4. Have a life. Being happy day to day is important.

I recently talked to an alum that loves her job, but does not like the city she is living in. When I asked her why she said, “I’m just so lonely. I don’t have any friends or family here.” I hear this from recent alums all of the time. When creating your job search goals, be sure to consider your social supports. You need folks around you to encourage and help you. Life isn’t all about work, it’s about living.

Let’s say you are in a new city all alone. What do you do? There are a ton of things to consider! Join a religious or spiritual community, volunteer, sign up for an online dating service, schedule Skype talks with friends and family several times a week, or get a pet. I know some of these ideas sound cheesy, but connection to others is important. I’m a big city guide geek – this one is one of my favorites.


5. Be a life-long learner. 

The best way to stay current and relevant is to keep growing your skills. Join a professional association (maybe even take on a leadership position), utilize online tutorials to grow your skills, read great books and blogs on topics that interest you, and take risks at work by taking on large projects (you’ll learn so much and grow your confidence). Many organizations’ HR offices offer skill development seminars or a leadership programs. With every new skill you learn, there will be an opportunity to use it, improve your work, and impress your boss.

One of my favorite things on LinkedIn is “thought leaders” posts – great advice and stories of leadership and innovation by some of the world’s most successful and influential people.



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