This year’s college graduates are a resilient group, having spent the past two years navigating an educational system that saw you take courses at times in person, and at times perched on beds, couches, and at kitchen tables. You processed an influx of constantly-altering news, guidelines, and regulations. You rapidly adapted to changing communications, rolled with the punches and developed solutions to everything –– from hosting Thanksgiving on Zoom and study groups in breakout rooms, to sewing your own masks and endless bread-baking or online happy hours. The past two years have upended the realms of education, business and society in general. This upheaval has also forged you into a uniquely flexible, adaptable faction of emerging talent entering the workforce.
As you prepare to move the tassels on your mortarboards to the left, here are a few pieces of advice for navigating the next phase of your life as you enter the workplace.
Amidst the pressures of daily meetings, deadlines and deliverables, meaningful preparation often falls to the wayside. It shouldn’t. Internal sessions, client meetings, panel participation or social gatherings deserve anticipation and planning. Take the time to research the person you are speaking to. Read what they have written or talked about. Analyze their company’s performance and industry commentary. Visualize what questions may be asked and have answers at the ready. And recognize that time is a scarce commodity and act accordingly. It is absolutely crucial to be on time. Better yet, be early. Take the earlier flight, sign onto Zoom five minutes before the meeting, turn in assignments a little bit prior to the deadline. Being prepared demonstrates respect, thoughtfulness, diligence and commitment.
First Mover Advantage
Being the first mover will get you far within an organization and when engaging with clients. Not only does proactive engagement demonstrate initiative, it will put you top of mind for new opportunities. Proactive interactions can lead to better outcomes and help nurture relationships. If you read something that may be of interest to a client or colleague, send it to them. Be the first to reach out. Be the one to take that extra step without being asked. By being the first person at the problem, you are much more likely to be the person to solve it.
Be Your Authentic Self
Joining a purpose-led organization and authenticity rank as top reasons for joining a future employer. What employers ask for in return is that employees bring their full selves to the table when they join the team. Leaders and rank and file are ambassadors of the brand, which makes authenticity a competitive key to success. Honest, full and intentional engagement builds strong corporate culture internally and loyal, resilient relationships with clients and customers. Develop your own style and project your authentic self.
Become a Value-Added Connector
Much ink has been spilled to hammer home the importance of building your professional network. There is a big difference between handing out your card or simply following a person or clicking “add to network.” What you really want to do is to cultivate connections and add value for those you are in contact with. Check in and connect via phone, email and in-person events. Engage in social media with a business lens, share your contacts’ content if it’s relevant. Acknowledge their posts and achievements. Not only does this elevate your social media brand, it solidifies your connections by demonstrating your interest. Maintaining rather than simply creating your network takes more work, but it pays dividends.
Be a Good Mentee
The power of mentorship is clear; CNBC reported that 91% of workers who have mentors are satisfied in their jobs. But keep in mind that mentorship is a two-way street. Often, your mentor is a person with a packed schedule, many responsibilities, and likely, other mentees. Reach out to your mentor, keep them up to date on what you’re doing, and make yourself accessible to them. They are only able to provide advice if they are in the know about what you are working on, involved in, and issues you’re trying to solve.
Be a Problem Solver
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, cultivate a reputation as a participant, not a spectator. Your generation is dynamic and has come of age in an era of a societal sea change. More than generations past, you are political engaged. Nearly 1 in 5 of you reported joining a protest march, rally, or demonstration in 2020, up from 7 percent in 2016, according to an American National Election Studies survey. Many of you will bring this perspective into the workplace, and are passionate about issues from diversity to sustainability, which is wonderful! There is no doubt that there is progress to be made, but as you push for change, I urge you not just to speak up to highlight problems but to humbly lean into being a part of the solution. If you do, your proactive approach will be noticed and your voice will gain heft. If you don’t, you risk being seen as an armchair activist. When you call out shortcomings, put some skin in the game. Your colleagues and managers will recognize problem solvers, and make sure you have a seat at the table going forward.
You are bursting onto the scene during a time of rapid, volatile change. You bring with you a unique experience and views due to the seismic upheavals of the past couple of years. You are a generation who persevered during a time of transformations in communicating, learning, and working. Armed with advice, goals, and perseverance, you will find success and inspiration in this ever-changing landscape.
As you begin your career, cultivating these traits will serve you well whether your path holds more choppy seas or it is smoother sailing.