Advice to Recent Graduates from an Ex-Recent Grad

I never thought I would find myself in this seat. What seat, you ask? The seat where I am sitting across the table from a recent graduate giving them advice on “What now?” I have written a list of 10 things to do when you graduate but that mainly goes over short-term things that you can accomplish quickly. What about the more conceptual “What now?”


Photo by Brian Lane Winfield Moore via Flickr

The question seems so simple. And it is simply… complex. If that makes any sense. Where do you go from here? Should you drown yourself in business etiquette books? Should you make sure you are the last person to leave the office? Or did your friend tell you that leaving last makes it seem like you can’t get your work done in time… so you should leave when everyone else does. But does that mean you are just following the herd? Ahhhh!

Some Tips For Recent Graduates

With all of those stress inducing questions flowing through your head, what does a was-recent grad have to offer you?

1. Plan, plan, plan. But not too much.

I’m sure you are thinking, “Darn you!” Just give me some advice that will solve all of my problems! I wish it was that simple. I give you advice, you follow it, and everything works out picture perfect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. So what do I mean by this whole “planning, but not really?”

Everyone has heard of goals. And if you have ever gone through a goal setting exercise, you usually have short-term, near-term, and long-term goals. Short-term would be goals that you would consider month-to-month. Near-term may be semi-annual or annual. And long-term goals would stretch to five or ten years or even more.

My advice is to sit down and write down all of your ST, NT, and LT goals. If you’ve started off with your ST goals and are moving towards your LT goals… do yourself a favor and start over. This time start with your LT goals and move backwards. For example, let’s say you want to be a Supply Chain Manager in five years. Then, using reverse engineering on your goals, what do you need to do? By Year 2 or 3, you should ideally be a supervisor of some capacity in either the warehouse or transport producing outstanding (and measurable) results. How do you get there? By Year 1 or 2, you should be getting a promotion into the supervisory role from your first role out of college. And how did this happen? Month by month, you need to perform above par and produce great results. My example isn’t as detailed or measurable as you should make your goals, but I just wanted to get the idea across. Make sure all of your goals are SMART goals.

What happens if you only follow 50% of that plan? Don’t worry; it is merely a draft of what your intentions are. Your intentions change, so don’t limit yourself because of a goal setting exercise.

2. Find a mentor and take advantage of the experience.

I’ve previously written about the importance of finding the right mentor. A mentorship is another relationship that you must build to be successful. The operative word is relationship. You must add value to the relationship just as they will add value by showing you the ropes.

Whether the mentor is assigned to you via your company (which sometimes leads to compatibility issues) or you connect with them yourself, make sure you both have a clear idea of what you are gaining from the relationship. Most seasoned employees know that mentoring newer employees is good for the business and themselves. It gives both parties an engaged audience to troubleshoot with and bounce ideas off of. Opportunities may open up through your mentor and you may ask some questions that they hadn’t thought of.

Start scoping out possible mentors as soon as you start working and keep your eyes open at every turn. I wouldn’t have found my mentor had I not specifically went and sat with him during my first week to learn what he does.

3. Be a Yes Man

Have you seen the movie “Yes Man” with Jim Carey? The concept is simple: Say yes to new situations that you encounter and leave the negativism aside. In order to make the movie more comedic, Jim Carey takes this to the extreme and says “Yes!” to every question. But think about the root concept in play.

If you are shy and all your co-workers go out to happy hour after work, say “Yes!” When the boss asks if you would mind traveling for a temporary project, saying “Yes!” might help your career. In fact, I did one of those temporary traveling assignments about a month and a half before I got promoted. Saying “Yes!” can make you more visible to people in your company as a positive, dependable, hard-working, go to person.

Obviously you need to evaluate your situation and use good judgment, but think about every question as an opportunity. If something good could come of it, it might be worth it to try.

4. Advice is Just That…

Not all advice is right, and most isn’t applicable.

Quite a conundrum we are in, huh? Here I am writing a post with 4 bits of advice for a recent graduate and one of the tips is that advice isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

And really, that’s what it all boils down too. In my 10 reasons post, I listed things like getting a used car and continuing to rent. But in the end, that may not be right for YOU. I can’t possibly know your situation, so I listed generic advice. It works for me. It works for a lot of people I know. But I can’t claim that it’s applicable to everyone.

That’s why this post has only 4 tips. They are large scale and conceptual tips. Planning, but not stressing about plans. Engaging in a valuable mentorship relationship. Saying “Yes!” to situations that will enable you to grow and develop. These are all tips that all of us can follow and use to develop. And then of course, the last tip: Be careful of the advice you follow.

A conundrum indeed.

Any More Tips?

Does anyone else have any large scale, big picture, conceptual tips for our recent grads? I think they hear enough financial tips about 401k’s and IRAs, let’s give them something meatier.

About the Author

By , on Sep 20, 2009
MLR is the owner of My Life ROI. He writes a lot of posts surrounding ways to instill money skills in children, loves his dog no matter how much PF sense it does or does not make, and cringes at the thought of students choosing careers based on the size of student loans. Please check out his website and subscribe to his feed.

Leave Your Comment (4 Comments)

  1. MLR says:

    @MoneyEnergy —
    These are very achievable in college. For example, with planning: Long term goal is to get a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Going backwards you can then plan EVERY single course you need to take to get there. But in the short term you must reevaluate as your goals change. Say you want to take a really exciting course in economics that wasn’t in your original plan, should you not take it? Of course not… it was a draft! That goes along nicely with what you said: “Go with the doors that open for you if they’re at least leading in the general right direction you want to be going. You can check and “rebalance” along the way.”

    @Craig —
    Up to different challenges is a very big one. It may not seem it right now, but some of those “miniscule” jobs will show you are a go-getter and may lead to much better jobs as the economy rebounds.

    @Doctor S —
    The “Yes man” is huge. I know quite a few people who say no to projects. I wonder what their career aspirations are with the company when they do that. But you’re right, as a new person you definitely need to use your judgment as some people will toe that line between abusing your willingness to work hard and genuinely offering you good opportunities for you to grow.

  2. Doctor S says:

    I think one of the biggest things I agree with is the concept of being a “Yes man”. But you need to throw a filter on you communication before you automatically say Yes. Take on new challenges and even take on the terdious tasks just to get them done, they will help in the wrong. But dont let people take advantage of you just b/c you are the new kid on the block, showing you have some analytical skills and decision making skills can be displayed.

  3. Craig says:

    Nice summary and as a relatively recent grad I agree with a lot of the suggestions. it’s tough now with the economy but there are jobs out there, just need to be more proactive about it and up to different challenges.

  4. MoneyEnergy says:

    Nice summary! I’d say that ideally you want to kick off some of these goals while you’re still in college – at least, the “big picture” type ones. Actual circumstances will fill in the details, so don’t try and plan specific situations. Go with the doors that open for you if they’re at least leading in the general right direction you want to be going. You can check and “rebalance” along the way.

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