Since starting Smartfish two years ago, one of the things I have most enjoyed is being able to take the time to speak at marketing classes and universities around the Northeast. I cover a wide variety of marketing topics, but one of my favorites as I look across the rooms and lecture halls and see the faces of graduating students who are on the verge of starting their own careers is, knowing what I know now, “What I would tell myself 25 years ago”.
1. Follow Your Passion
I was fortunate, I spent most of career in the beer industry (to most 22-yr old males, this is a passion area!). It is so much easier to work in a field that you have passion for vs. doing something that does not inspire you to pop out of bed in the morning. Whatever it is- Athletics, Environmental Causes, Fashion, etc., if you are going to sacrifice your early years of low pay and long hours, put it in to something that inspires you. I have often spoken to peers who have been in industries they don’t love and the difference in how we talked about our careers was always fascinating. When you love what you do, life is going to be that much better!
2. Know Where You Want To Be
There are no guarantees, but why choose a job, industry, or company that does not have a presence in the area of the country that you ultimately want to live in. It does not have to be right away, and its always a good idea to experience other regions/cultures, but ultimately you want all roads to get you back to where you think you want to be. I have seen too many people over the years stranded, with no other options available other than to leave the company they have spent a great deal of time and energy against in order to get back to area that they desired to be in. Think with the end in mind.
3. What’s Your Story
I always like to ask my classes to look at the person next to them and then I let them know they are looking at their competition for the job they want. When you start that first job search and you are likely not able to rely on years of applicable experience, ask yourself what is my story? What internships have you done? What volunteer and/or non-profit work have you done? How have you demonstrated leadership on campus or during your part-time jobs? Your resume is going out with countless others and when someone looks at it, they are immediately trying to develop a picture of who you are and what you have really done. How you ensure your resume stands out is up to you and early on, it can make all the difference.
4. Build Your Network
It is easier now to build a network than it has ever been. You should be graduating with 500+ connections on LinkedIn, plus an even healthier dose of contacts on your more personal social networks. You should be LinkedIn with not just your classmates, but also your teachers, family friends and basically anyone else who you know who is in a professional field. You never know who may be a useful influencer in helping you find your next job.
5. Find Mentors
Everyone needs them. As you move through your career you are going to be lucky enough to work with some special people, ones that you will want as mentors for your entire career. Keeping mentors takes work, you need to ensure you do a good job of staying in contact with them and keep them up to date on what you are doing. I learned the value of keeping a “Relationship Wheel” map. The purpose is to have a wheel with 8-10 people on it, people who are big influencers in your current role and in your overall career. You then keep that wheel and refer to it every 60 days or so. When you pull it out, take a time to write a score down on where you think your current relationship is with each person, if it is less than an 8, develop an action plan on how it can be improved before the next time you review.
6. Be Humble
Everyone wants the dream. The industry, the company, the job, and of course the handsome paycheck. Breaking news, it’s not going to happen. Prioritize what is most important to you and do what it takes to make your priorities a reality. I am a strong advocate that if you truly believe in yourself, do what ever you need to do to get in the door of the company/industry you most want. Once in, everything else will be realized if you are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to succeed.
7. Manage Your Social Media
This is the last thought I like to leave with the class. The reality is that so much of what is being done now has a digital footprint, so don’t be an idiot. Seeing a photo of you online being surrounded by a pool of red Solo cups is not a good first impression. It’s easy to manage what you put out there, but you also have your friends posting stuff as well. Companies are not just looking at your LinkedIn profile, they are looking to see if they can learn something more about you on Instagram, Twitter, etc. The other thing is to make sure your LinkedIn profile is strong. The wide variance in both content and effort that students put in to their LinkedIn profiles is mindboggling. This is your online resume! Take the time and energy to put your best possible self out there or suffer the consequences.
It is both an exciting and anxious time for those of you who are about to take their first career step. Rest assured, not every move you are about to make is going to go according to plan. Just keep in mind the 7 things above and hopefully you will be on your way to realizing the dream situation sooner in life vs. later. After all, it’s one of the big reasons you and your parents just paid all that money for you to go to school for in the first place!