Five career tips for recent graduates

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I know this is just four, but they fit better. The fifth is “Control your own career.” As in don’t leave it up to someone else, least of all your boss.

I get it. You’re anxious. A bit stressed. One life stage comes crashing to an end and a new, unfamiliar one is about to begin.

Your parents are tired of footing the bill. College loan payments loom just over the horizon. The job market remains iffy. And yes, your portfolio, resume and cover letter all need work.

You want a job, a paycheck and something that validates the last four years of life and the $200,000 you just forked over to prepare for — or perhaps delay — this very day.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had no shortage of students seeking advice on their portfolios, websites, cover letters and resumes.

Is my work portfolio good enough to get a job? How can I make it better? What should stay in? Should I take this out? Does this cover letter work? Do you know anyone at (fill in the name of virtually any advertising agency in America)? Would you mind looking at my resume? What’s better, any job inside a good agency or the position I really want at a lesser agency?

But there is one question that no one ever asks. A question that is far more important, at least in the long term, than, “How can I make this cover letter better?”

And it’s this.

“How can I be happy in my career?”

Given that I’ve somehow managed to survive for 35 years in a business that I love. Given that I actually looked forward to work every day for 30 of those years. And given that I never felt that I had to answer to anyone but myself I thought I’d share the six tips that I’m convinced lead to happiness as well as success.

Avoid working for (or with) assholes

You’ll recognize them right away. They throw their weight around just so you know who is in charge. They take credit for your ideas and blame you when theirs don’t work. They compete against you instead of working with you. They tend to say, “no because,” instead of “yes and.”  They defend the past rather than embrace the future. They take the joy out of both the work and the workplace.  Life is too short to spend any of it working for an asshole. Please don’t.

Find clients you believe in

Not everyone gets to work on Apple or Nike or Dove or Chipotle. You may find yourself selling fast food, sugar-laden soft drinks, SUVs or hair dyes. And that’s OK, too, if you believe in those products. But if that’s not the case, find a way to get off that business and onto to one you do believe in.  Otherwise — even if you are engaged with the team, and stimulated by the challenge — you’ll never love the work you do or be proud of your accomplishments.

Pursue the work not the money

You want to wake up every morning excited about what you will create not about how much you’ll get paid. It’s the work that will make the day fly by. It’s the work that will keep your brain engaged. It’s the work that will make you want to come back tomorrow.  And, no surprise, if you love the work and what you’re creating, you’ll do a better job and end up making more money anyway.

Control your own career

You have two choices. You can let your career happen to you. Or you can take charge. My suggestion? Don’t leave things to chance or to someone you work for. Plan ahead, leverage every experience, seek new challenges, stay impatient.

You may or may not have a 10-year plan or even a five-year plan. But as soon as you have your first position start plotting how to secure the next one. Know what it takes to get there and take the first steps sooner rather than later. Volunteer for additional assignments, develop relationships outside your immediate circle, build your personal brand with online content network, and stay open to any and all opportunities that present themselves.

Share everything you learn

If you really want to be happy, pass it forward and give it back. Few things can give you as much joy as teaching others what you know. So help someone older learn a new technology that keeps him relevant. Show a newbie the ropes. Save others from making whatever mistakes you made as you learn and grow. You’ll feel good about yourself. And set a good example for anyone inclined to be an asshole.

Got other tips for the next generation of makers, creators and doers? Please comment.

More advice you might find useful.

4 comments
benkunz
benkunz

I love this. It's also good advice for managers trying to build a better organization; we should work to structure our agencies or orgs to support having good people (non-assholes), clients we believe in, career path support for employees, and outcomes that inspire the mind, not just wallet. Many thanks. 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Really never too late @EdwardBoches and why I gave up a nice career in B2B industrial sales to work on my own. Advertising/Marketing wound up being a great fit and very challenging including much poorness financially but is now paying off. I got tired of working for people I couldn't respect or with warmongers in aerospace/military. NASA projects are cool but bomb/missile projects not as cool.

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