When college graduates begin their career, most begin with a blank resume, limited relationships and an uphill battle to success. Sure, maybe some of them attended top-tier universities, took business classes or landed stellar internships during their college years. But, in many ways, graduation is like hitting reset as they enter the real world.
So, how can a recent graduate transition from an empty resume to a fully successful career? I sat down with millennial workplace expert, Antonio Neves, to discuss.
“A college degree simply isn’t enough to guarantee a great career,” Neves said. “What’s going to help graduates stand out are the key ‘soft skills’ that sadly are rarely taught on college campuses.”
Research shows that the skills employers crave today are people skills, problem solving, creative thinking and emotional intelligence.
Neves believes that regardless of where a student attended college or what they majored in, any graduate can build a successful career. What it requires is a nontraditional approach to making choices as a young professional that can impact your career growth in surprising ways.
Here are five important lessons Neves shares in his book 50 Ways To Excel In Your First Job (And In Life).
1. Find people who make you better.
Most young professionals’ careers stall not because they don’t have the skills to succeed, but because they surround themselves with the wrong people early on. They think it’s all about who you know when it’s actually who knows you best. Neves encourages young professionals to build strong relationships with allies and to avoid what he calls “thieves.”
“Thieves are people who don’t encourage you, support you or hold you accountable,” Neves said. Thieves are anyone from colleagues to peers who steal your time and energy.
On the flipside, allies encourage, empower and support others. “Allies are the people that have great things going on in their careers. They will challenge you in a positive way to produce great work, exceed expectations and grow professionally.”
It’s essential to identify thieves early on and create boundaries, Neves said, while keeping allies close.
2. Know that your first job won’t be your last job.
College graduates and their parents put a lot of pressure on landing that perfect first job out of college. Young professionals agonize about making the wrong choice, as if it has the power to doom them to a horrible career path forever. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, based on workplace trends, most young professionals are currently open to leaving their first employer for a new career opportunity. The employment landscape has evolved. Lifelong (or even decade-long) employment is a thing of the past. This means don’t stress about picking the perfect job.
“Instead of worrying about picking the right first job,” Neves said, “instead focus on the opportunities the job you do select will offer. This includes ongoing training and development, where the job is located and who you will report to.”
There’s no wrong decision as long as you learn, grow, and feel challenged.
3. Dress for the job you want.
Dress codes these days are very relaxed at many companies. T-shirts, jeans and flip-flops aren’t necessarily considered unacceptable in offices anymore. However, think twice before you get dressed in the morning.
“Just because everyone is wearing jeans doesn’t mean that you should,” said Neves. Instead he recommends keeping a close eye on the people who are in the positions you’d like to have one day. Observe how they dress and how they present themselves.
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
4. Pause before you send anything.
Emails have a notorious reputation for getting people in trouble. This includes sending an email too soon or accidentally sending an email to everyone that was meant for just one person.
Great writing skills are one of the most in-demand professional skills according to employers. “Because it’s so rare, being a great writer will make you stand out in the office,” Neves said. “Being able to write in a clear and concise manner is a rarity in offices these days.”
Neves recommends always reading and rereading what you wrote before sending an email. If it’s important, you can even have a colleague take a look to ensure the email is clear, mistake-free and being sent to the right people with only pertinent information. Once an email is out there, you create a virtual paper trail with your name attached to it. So remember: write with care. When in doubt, always veer toward being professional rather than casual.
5. Have a go-to spot.
Early in your career, you’ll probably spend more time at the office than at home. Neves says it’s important to create a “third place” that’s not the office or home where you can become a regular. This could be a restaurant, lounge, or café.
“When you have a great third place,” Neves said, “You’ll be able to build strong relationships with people and professionals outside of your circle.” Another benefit is that you’ll get to know the staff at these establishments and they’ll get to know you. They can introduce you to people, spark interesting conversations and have your back when you need a table for that important meeting.
So if you’re a new grad, Neves puts it simply: “Be thoughtful about how you engage with the real world, and it’ll be kind to you in return.”