Recently I posted some advice for recent High School graduates. Here I will give some for college graduates finding their way into the work world. In no particular order, here are 10 pieces of advice I have for you:
Start your 401K the day you are hired. I know, lame. But, if you start your saving for retirement now, when the time comes you will be able to continue the lifestyle to which you will have become accustomed. Find out what the maximum you can contribute is for tax purposes, and start there. If your company offers matching to the contribution, make sure that is maxed out as well. That is free money from your company, so don’t leave it on the table. You may be tempted to say “well, I have this college loan debt, maybe I should pay that first”. While that seems like a good idea, the money you are paying YOURSELF in your 401K should take precedence over extra payments to your college debt.
Live below your means. Chances are, in your first job you will earn more than you have ever earned in your life. Don’t be tempted to live up to that income immediately. Live 10% to 20% below that level. Use what you save to build a nest egg, pay down college debt or any other debt you have. Your income will grow over time. If you take on this attitude early, you will always be ahead of the financial game, rather than behind it.
Meet People. Meet LOTS of people. Get to know a whole new set of people both in your professional life, and your personal life. Expanding your circle of friends will enrich your lived experience. Find like-minded people, those that share your line of work, or share your faith. But also, seek out people who are different from you. Get to know them, learn from them as they learn from you. You will be glad you did.
Learn to think for yourself. This is on my list for High School graduates as well. You have been inundated with a variety of viewpoints as you worked through your college years. Some you agree with, some you do not. Some sound great because they are spoken by celebrities. Learn to think critically, seek the facts, and think for yourself. Don’t follow a pattern of thought just because it is in the mainstream. Nor should you embrace the off shoots because they seem fashionable. Think for yourself, and hold true to those thoughts. But, don’t be afraid to change your mind based on what you learn along the way. That is a sign of a mature, deep thinker.
Find two mentors. Find two people who are further along in their life than you, whom you respect. Ask them to be your mentor. Spend time with them. Ask them questions and listen well to their answers. There are far more mentors available than there are people seeking them out. Ask, and you will find the right people to share their thoughts with you.
Learn and understand the triple constraint. In all projects there are three things that are in constant tension with each other: time, cost and content. This is known as the triple constraint. I had a friend once who ran a body shop. Without knowing the term, he knew perfectly the concept of the triple constraint. Once he said to me “Bobby, I can give it to you fast, perfect or cheap. Pick any two, and let me have the other.” Anything you try to do in life will come down to these three constraints. You will have to learn to manage how long it takes to do something, how much it costs, and what it is you want to do. The more you can master this concept, the more effective you become at negotiation, and at managing your way through your work.
Learn the basics of finance and accounting where you work. Those who know me well are chuckling to themselves right now. They know how much I loathe doing finance and accounting work. But, while I hate to do it, I know that my effectiveness and value at work is increased when I can manage money, and more importantly, when I can converse with those who control the purse strings. Everything you will try to do at work must be paid for. Someone has to foot the bill. If you want your project to be approved, you must learn to converse with the finance and accounting people in a way that they want to hear it, and a way that sells your ideas. Take a course in basic finance and accounting for professionals, and apply what you learn.
Read! Never stop reading. Read things that make you think. Read things that challenge and grow your imagination. Read things that will help you be more effective. But, please READ. When you read you learn. When you learn you grow. When you grow your life becomes more enjoyable and fulfilling. So, take just a half hour a day and turn off the TV and video games, and read something.
Hone your written communications. Nothing wrecks credibility faster than an email message filled with misspelled or misused words, or poor grammar. Remember, spell check will only go so far. You need to make sure that what you are saying is in a coherent, concise set of sentences. While you are honing your writing skill, learn the bikini rule. Make what you are writing extensive enough to cover the important parts, but brief enough to be interesting.
Practice public speaking. No one can be successful who cannot communicate their ideas from one human being to another. Getting what is in your head into my head is done through effective communication. And there is no more effective way to communicate than to captivate an audience and tell them what you think. Public Speaking is a skill. There are those born with a natural talent for being in front of a crowd, but ANYONE can learn the skill of standing on your feet and speaking. Being the person who can manage to speak to a group effectively will open doors to you that you would not expect. Join a toastmasters group, take a Dale Carnegie class, join an improv group. Anything, so long as it gets you on your feet and talking.
So, that is it. My 10 pieces of advice for College Graduates.