One of my weekly rituals is reading Adam Bryant’s Corner Office column in The New York Times. Recently, Bryant started asking the CEOs he interviews what career advice they would give to college graduates. I have excerpted my favorite quotes for you, whether you are starting your career or are well into it.
1. Be curious.
“Understand the world, and what different jobs entail. Curiosity is the most important human trait. How much do you know about the world of work that you’re not in yet? … There are a lot of (young people who) don’t have a good framework for how the world works.” — Don Charlton, CEO of Jazz
The intellectual curiosity that is fostered in college is one of the most important traits that you can bring to the working world. Companies need new perspectives to stay relevant to their changing consumer base. This year, the Millennial generation became the largest segment of the professional workforce. Be brave and share your fresh ideas in your next meeting.
2. Be flexible.
“Starting a career is a bit like being at the top of a mogul ski run. You can try to map out your line for 10 moguls, but after the first two moguls, you’re usually off your line. You’re never going to be able to map it out to the bottom. It’s about making sure you’re on the right slope and you picked the right mountain. Don’t worry so much about how it’s all going to play out in the end.” — Greg Schott, CEOMuleSoft
As an avid skier, this analogy really resonates with me. Having a plan for your career is great, but you need to stay flexible. The dream job that you land fresh out of college may turn out to be a terrible fit. You may learn that your talents are best used in a different role or industry. Careers are rarely straight lines. Ask older friends or coworkers what their first jobs out of college were. Chances are what they are doing now is light years away from where they started.
3. Work hard (and write well).
“First, learn how to write. No matter what you’re studying in college, be a great writer because it can stymie your career if you’re not. … Raise your hand. Work hard. Be the person about whom everybody says, ‘She’s next, she’s the one who can do it.’” — Kathleen Finch, CEO, HGTV
Of all the things that drive employers crazy, the inability to communicate, especially the inability to write, tends to be high on the list. But being a good writer is not enough. To truly stand out, you need to work hard, really hard. Harder than you may ever have worked before. Work with great people who are doing important work that really interests you, and your days will fly by.
4. Deliver the goods.
“The process of conception, planning and execution is … hard for most people. And it’s the last part where people typically have trouble, because execution is about doing what you say you’re going to do.” — Mark Toro, Managing Partner, North American Properties
Ever wonder why hiring managers spend so much time asking for examples to back up your answers in an interview? Just because you say you are good at something won’t cut it. Employers want to know what you have accomplished. Being smart is great. But if you can’t get out of your own way and actually get things done, you’ll be of little value to an employer. Execution is a critical skill for career success.
5. Make an impact.
“Whether it’s a company or a market, go where you can actually have a real impact on the business. That gives you an opportunity to take on more responsibility than your resume warrants. You may get paid less, but the experience and probably the enjoyment are going to be much higher.” — David Colitis, CEO of BetterCloud
When you’re interviewing, spend time asking critical questions about the priorities at the company. This will help you to understand the big picture and get you through the grunt work that comes with most entry-level jobs. If you are working for a company with a mission that inspires you, you’ll realize that even the small things make a difference. Do the grunt work and anything and everything else as though it’s critical. In short order, you’ll be the one who is tapped to work on the plum assignments. Making an impact, a positive one, is what dream careers are made of.
Lisa R. Miller is founder and chief career catalyst at C2C, College to Career, where she helps college students, recent graduates and young professionals navigate the transition from college to career.