There are a few thing new graduates should know as they enter the workforce.
My team is amazing. I say it a lot, and it’s true. But even the team at Red Branch Media has its moments. There have been times when I’ve seen the cultural gap well in effect and periods where my employer head has clashed with my leader heart. In the years I’ve been in business, I have hired a lot of new graduates. After I recently read Jack Welch’s LinkedIn piece on new grads, I was compelled to write a candid open letter to them as well.
So here’s my copycat post. Here’s what I would (and do) tell new grads when they walk into Red Branch Media with soul-crushing loans and a desire to change the world with their knowledge. And please know, I don’t tell them these things to discourage them, but to prepare them and make them better than they could be if I simply told them to “find their destiny.”
This Is Not Your Destiny
At least, this isn’t what you thought your destiny would be when you were a kid. I wanted to be a rock star/Miss Universe, and now I lead a merry band of B2B advertising rock stars. And so it goes. I know it’s hard to face up to the fact that you aren’t going to write the great American novel in your first five years out of school. Although my firm is an amazing place to work and you will be a better writer, worker, person and probably dancer when you leave, it probably isn’t your destiny. So don’t expect it to be. Instead, focus on learning skills that will help you when you do sit down to write that novel.
I Am Not Your Mom or Your College Professor
This is a workplace. This means you show up no matter how sick your dog is. This means you don’t forget about conference calls with clients. It means I feel terrible when you and your boyfriend are having a fight but no, it does not qualify as a sick day. Meeting a deadline and turning in a paper are two very different things, and developing you into a great colleague is very different than helping you become a good person.
Want to Work From Home? Earn It
I get that you want to work from home, but very few college grads are equipped to do so right out of the gate. Perhaps you are the exception. Fine. Spend some time earning my trust so I know I can rely on you to do a good job from home, Starbucks or Tahiti.
Your Loans Are on You
Don’t ask me for a raise because you took out loans. I worked several jobs, had two babies, a mortgage and the same loans you did at your age. It is not in me to feel sorry for you that your dad stopped paying your cell phone bill. Save this conversation for your friends, not your boss. I know the system isn’t fair, and I know it’s hard out there for a grad, but trust me.
You Are Replaceable
This one is hard. You never want to say this to people who work for you, because it’s demoralizing and stinky. But that doesn’t make it any less true. For every job I’ve left, I was convinced the company would implode without me. Only one actually did, and that was a bit of a fluke of timing. Look, it’s easy to think you have the roughest, toughest job in the whole company, but please believe me when I say that everyone is replaceable.
You aren’t done yet. You have to keep learning in life, never more so than those heady, dispiriting years when you realize you learned nothing with a real world application during your four expensive years in school. So many of the people we hire here at Red Branch end up wanting so badly to drop out and work here full-time, just because their final semesters seems so incongruent with their job here. And it’s not because we’re not solving real issues.
Your Naiveté Is Immensely Valuable
Sure, it can be a hindrance, but it’s also a goldmine of completely unbiased market research. It’s quite common for new employees to ask questions about marketing that I never thought of before. Keep questioning until you get an answer that suffices, but keep doing what you’re paid to do in the meantime.
There’s More Than One Way to Do Something
Six plus three equals nine. But so does four plus five, and two plus five plus one plus one. There is more than one way to do something. When you start your first job, or even your first job search, there will be people who train you to think three plus six equals nine, and that’s all right because it does. But don’t lock yourself into just one way of doing things. Keep taking chances and trying different ways to do things.
Debate Is Fine; Excuses Aren’t
I love when someone on my team challenges an assumption I’ve had forever. Not that it’s fun being reminded that what you thought you knew is increasingly unreliable, but it makes me realize that I do have buy-in. What frustrates me are excuses. I know you didn’t mean to mess up, that it was an accident, that you didn’t know, that you were confused, that you got sick, and that you thought someone else was handling it, but none of those are solutions. So, don’t offer me excuses until you have a solution. Fix it first, then analyze what went wrong. Don’t confuse justification with debate.
Don’t Let Anyone (Not Even Me) Define What You Are Worth
A job (even a cool one) at a desk (even a standing one) working for the boss man (even a woman one) isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t for me and it might not be for you. Define your own dreams, salary and path. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.
Image credit: CC by John McStravick.