Welcome to the workforce, Class of 2016! Not two weeks ago, you were posing for tasseled cap pictures with your shiny new diplomas, packing your bags, and moving out of your college digs. But now it’s time to get down to business and put that hard-earned degree to good use. It may be stressful and even intimidating at first, but the job hunt you embark on now is not just a paycheck search. In fact, if you play your cards right, your first position out of college can be much more than just a job. It can actually be the first step of your career—the beginning of all your future professional endeavors.
We spend our days talking with experts, reading the latest research, and leading discussions and training sessions worldwide, in all types of organizations. And one thing we’ve learned is that there a few basic practices any employee, even recent graduates, can do to cultivate a fantastic career. Time and again these practices are shown to accelerate your climb to the top.
1. Ask more questions. Years of school have already taught you that there are no stupid questions. As you jump into your career, this mantra still rings true. Regardless of how thorough your orientation and information packet are, it’s unlikely your employer will cover all you need to know. You won’t be able to fully understand team dynamics, objectives, and office culture unless you ask for clarification when something is unclear. The HR department, your manager, and your new co-workers are all great resources of information. Once you’ve got your footing, start asking probing questions whose answers can add new ideas and business value. Questions that are curious and thought provoking, and explore how to develop and improve products and processes, have been proven to be the starting point of great work. Making a difference people love is a fantastic way to gain momentum and respect throughout your career.
2. Find a mentor. We recommend that every new hire seeks out a mentor at their organization, but this is especially crucial for recent grads. Whether it’s a senior leader in your department or even your funny coworker one cubicle over, you’ll find your professional world expands vastly once you find a great mentor. But, be mindful of your choice—negative people, will hinder your growth, while positive and supportive people will boost you. Not only will your mentor be the perfect sounding board for your questions, but they will also introduce you to new contacts, expand your business understanding, and impart their knowledge and skills. Many of the greatest entrepreneurs and leaders credit their success to a fantastic mentor who shared their insights. One day, you may too.
3. Work smarter. Conventional workplace advice tells you to be the first to arrive and the last to leave at your new job to demonstrate to the team that you’re dedicated from day one. But we’ve written about conventional advice and why it’s often wrong. So instead of working harder and longer, aim to work smarter. Before you step foot into your new office, educate yourself on the tools of the trade. Whether you read up on new programs or phone apps designed to integrate into your industry’s work, or the latest research pertaining to your specialty, get smart on how you can be more productive. It’s a fantastic way to show initiative and intelligence. Think of it as the professional version of doing your homework.
4. Get in the thick of the action. The majority of award-winning work happens when people step out into the world where their work is utilized. So if you want to take your next project from good to great, follow this simple piece of advice: go see for yourself. Witness how your product, process, or solution is used—and by whom. Discover its ease of operation, benefits, and possible shortcomings. You may be amazed at how different your perspective becomes when you’ve interacted hands-on with your work. Seeing for yourself is a great way to gain knowledge and experience—and to show you’re invested in the project. Then, take your project to the next level by checking out the other proven steps to great work.
5. Communicate clearly. In work as in life, most misunderstandings can be avoided by better communication. Learn to communicate clearly and concisely—whether you’re writing a department-wide email or leading a small meeting. Ask close friends or family members for feedback on how you can improve at your communication skills before you arrive in the office and take their words to heart. And once you get to work, remember to communicate your appreciation when you see a job well done. Nothing conveys professionalism like a sincere, meaningful expression of gratitude.
Regardless of your industry, starting position, experience, or company, these tips hold true. Hang up your cap and gown and try this advice on for size instead. You hold the future in your hands—and it’s up to you to mold your own fantastic career path from day one. Congratulations, Class of 2016!
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