The Graduation Post: 5 Tips for New College Grads

Who doesn’t love a good graduation speech?  Usually they are full of great advice, wonderful hope and optimism, and more than one caution about expecting things to come too easily or focusing too much on money.  One day, perhaps I will be important and old enough to give one of those speeches and offer some sage advice from the stage.  In the meantime, I propose a question to my fellow bloggers: what tips or advice would you offer to the new college graduates that they probably didn’t learn in school?  There have been thousands of college graduations over the last few weeks in the US and one day very soon, these grads will become our colleagues — so here’s our chance to add to an archive of what we’d like them to know.  I am going to tag my post "graduationadvice07" and suggest that any other bloggers who post advice for college grads to do the same …

  1. Read between the lines: The most frustrating thing you will find is that people are not great about telling you what they want.  Of course, asking is always an option (and never something to be afraid of).  Yet you may get your fair share of "brainless" tasks when you are first starting out.  The obvious course is to complete them as requested – but reading between the lines means that you actually think about the task and how to do it better.  There is no situation where thinking about a job will not help you.  Plus, demonstrating that you are thinking about activities means you are less likely to get the brainless jobs in the future.
  2. Get a deadline and subtract – Deadlines are an ever present part of life in any kind of business, but what you might not realize is that often deadlines are subjective lines that are continually moving.  And lots of managers forget to let you know what those deadlines are (even if they have them in their own minds).  So the first step is to always get a deadline.  The second is, wherever possible, to subtract from the deadline and aim to have something completed early. 
  3. Never become the sphincter – Ok, this is not about attitude, though it could be.  A "sphincter" in business is an entity through which everything must pass before moving on.  Human sphincters are people who introduce themselves into the middle of a process to require "approval" before it moves on.  They are also the people who have a vital component of information but are either unavailable or unwilling to share it, holding up other team members.  This is not a place you want to be, ever.  Answer quick questions quickly and give people the information they need as soon as you can.
  4. Make everyone look smarter (not just yourself) – When you are at the bottom, making your bosses look good is a great strategy … but this is not about kissing up to the boss.  Doing work that makes the entire team look smarter and not focusing on yourself demonstrates several things.  Firstly that you can work as part of a team, secondly that you are a star within the team, and most importantly – that your boss will see a real personal reward from your work.
  5. Accept criticism and move on – The typical advice is to grow a thick skin and deal with criticism, and of course that’s true.  That doesn’t mean you have to accept or agree with it.  But it does mean that sometimes a great idea will not get heard and people won’t get it.  Whether the criticism is valid or not, the important part of this advice is the second portion … move on.  A more succinct way of putting it is: get over it.  I can’t count the number of great ideas I thought I had which I couldn’t sell.  Eventually, they’ll find a home …  but letting them go quickly is the best way to refocus on the next activity.

What other advice would you offer to tell new college grads?

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