8 Tips for Career Success: Graduates

I did a guest article titled Powered for Endurance where I wrote about the “new normal” for college graduates post 2008.

The “New Normal” is  – four (five) years of college, almost six figures in debt, and there are no job prospects on the horizon in the near or distant future. You apply to a job with one to three hundred other applicants not just your age, but downsized older workers with mortgages to pay and children to take care of. Was that degree worth the hype? Were you sold a pipe dream? Is the American dream dead?

I am a first generation college and law school graduate. I was fortunate to have people enter my life to help me navigate my educational objectives and career goals. Without their advice and wisdom, I do not know if I would have succeeded. Below are eight essential tips for success in your career and profession.

Networking is a fine balance between tooting your own horn, showing an interest in others, and how you can be mutually beneficial to each other. Cast a wide net outside of your usual social and business sphere. Attend many diverse events. You never know who will be the person who will lead you to your next job, client, or big idea. Unfortunately, who you know matters. Many times jobs are filled before the posting because the hiring person sent an email to friends and contacts asking for names of potential candidates. If a person you met works at a company you are interested in, ask them out of coffee. Do not ask for a job, but their advice on how they structured their job search and any tips they would offer you. Asking for the benefit of someone’s wisdom gets your foot in the door.

It is important to “play well” with others. You may not like or love everyone on the job, but if no one wants to work with you, then you become unemployable. The people you meet going up the ladder of success are the ones who are able to break your fall on the trip down. Trust, you will have failures as well as success, hopefully more of the latter. However, building relationships are why clients leave firms and follow the guy that brought them in because the relationship was never with the firm but a person. Whether you are resigning or new, common courtesy never goes out of style. Even if you want to give your old job the finger on the way out, remember that you may need them as a reference later on. Do not burn bridges. In business, “quid pro quo” is a reality. Do not turn your work environment into a reality television drama.

The biggest part of any job is managing your time. There will always be “fires” to put out, clients wanting all of your time, and partners demanding what was due in two weeks ASAP. A great employee is one that knows how to manage time well. Procrastination, chronic lateness, or forgetfulness is unacceptable. Your job is to manage your time, people, and their expectations. Use your calendar on your smart phone. Pace things. Understand priority. You are not the first person to do the task, so do not reinvent the wheel. Do not take on more than you can handle and end up not delivering. If someone asks you to take on another task, try this: “I would like help you, but I am currently working on project X for partner Y which is due tomorrow. I am not available until then. If your project is urgent, you can speak with partner Y and see if she is willing to spare me.”

As an attorney, I have seen people give preferential treatment to those they think are important. Etiquette never goes out of style regardless of a person’s title or lack thereof. You have one chance to make a first impression. Do not talk down or above people. Do not get too familiar too soon. I use Mr. and Ms. until the person says, “Just call me Joe.” Being rude to a receptionist or administrative assistant could be your ruin. Most are gatekeepers to executives. A friend was a law clerk and an attorney called yelling and cursing at her. She put the attorney on speaker phone so the judge could hear. The judge picked up the phone and had some choice words of his own for that attorney. Your profession is a small circle. Everything is six degrees of separation. Guard your reputation and name. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

In nature, survival is based on a species adapting to changing environments or it becomes extinct. Likewise, your employment is contingent upon your ability to be adaptable and flexible to the ever changing office landscape. Companies merge, get new management, and phase out old technology. However, an inflexible employee will go the way of the Commodore 64 – obsolete. I supervised staff and the most odious employee is one that does not adapt, refuses change, or becomes an impediment to change. Yes, you may have done things “that way” for ten years, but now we are doing it this way. Most jobs require interdependent relationships across several departments. You need to be able to see not only your role, but where it fits in the big picture analysis, adjust to the changing landscape, and be a team player.

If you cannot be honest about your strengths, weaknesses, and what you bring to the table, then you will be stuck in the same job with no room for upward mobility or you will be replaced. Each employee has a role to fill and does not work in a vacuum. You are part of a larger puzzle. If you do not understand your piece and how it fits in the larger whole or your piece causes havoc on the rest of the puzzle (co-workers), then you are not an asset but a liability to the company. Just doing your job or the minimum will not help you stand out for advancement or when it is time for bonus and raises. You must be able to look at your supervisor and say “not only did I perform my job; I went above expectations on this project and added to the team on this presentation.” Likewise, be willing to say “I am working on improving this to add to my skill set and benefit the team.” End by re-emphasizing your positive value to the company.

Like families, every company has its issues – good bad and ugly. However, keep reality television antics away from the office. Do not be the office bully, instigator, or gossip. Be courteous and cordial, but stay away from drama without being antisocial. Attend a few gatherings with co-workers, but keep your personal issues out of the office.

8. BE ENTREPRENEURIAL (Failure is an option and it’s okay)
One thing that college and law school did not teach was business. You are your own brand. Be willing to try that idea of starting your own business.
(1) Find mentors that will tell you the good bad and ugly to keep you on path and honest with yourself.
(2) Research. Go in eyes wide open to the risks and benefits.
(3) Reach out. Visit the Small Business Center at a grad school to get assistance especially for women and minority owned businesses.
(4) Make a plan and revisit it monthly or quarterly adjusting to your needs, wants, and market changes.
(5) Finally, pay it forward.

Also published on HuffPost.

Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.