"Is this OK to send?" That innocent question from my daughter was all it took to convince me that today's young people are woefully unprepared for a harsh work world.
Those five fateful words were the subject line of an email my daughter, Avery, sent me after getting her first "real" post-college job offer. Until I stopped her, Avery was about to ask her new boss for a later start date so she'd have more time to "tie up loose ends" (i.e., find her own apartment). Yikes, right?
This was when I realized that many of today's young people don't yet understand how the working world actually works. So, I began writing what became "The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life" (Wiley, 2014). [The 20 Happiest Jobs for New Grads]
Here are a few bite-size pieces of advice that college grads (and employees of any age or level of experience) can use to get — and do — a great job in the big leagues:
Don't think about what you want to do. Think about what you can do. My first piece of advice might feel like a cold wake-up call: Spend less time figuring out what you want to do and more time thinking about what you can do. In other words, seek out a career doing something that you're good at.
Know that getting a job is a job. You know you will need to work hard at your job to succeed, but you may not understand you need to work even harder to get an opportunity to work hard. Young people should be prepared to use all their contacts to set up 40 to 50 informational interviews. These informational interviews will allow them to learn about the industry they want to work in, give them practice selling themselves in a professional context and allow them to have enough "fishing lines in the water" to hook that great job.
Understand whose problem you're trying to solve. Remember that interviewers don't care about how great you are; they only care about how you can help their company win. Every word out of your mouth must tie back to that theme.
Own your mistakes. No matter how hard you work, you are going to make mistakes on the job. Always own up to them. It will be difficult in the moment, but if you're a hardworking, valued employee, when you do own up to your mistakes, it will be viewed as a sign of strength — not weakness — by your co-workers. Plus, you'll be in a position to learn and improve.
Be a leader your first day on the job. The best way to be a leader is to lead by example. But how can you do that your first day on the job? The answer is simpler than you might imagine. Be the first one in and the last to leave, ask questions, and be respectful of all your co-workers all the time. If you do this every day, I guarantee you will quickly be identified as a leader. And as a leader, you will gradually be given more opportunities to provide increased value to your company, which is the foundation of every interesting and successful corporate career.
The real world is very tough, but it can also be very fun. Combine your enthusiasm and energy with an understanding of how the real world works, and you'll have a great chance of enjoying a highly successful career. Good luck, and welcome to the big leagues!
About the author
Ben Carpenter is vice chairman of CRT Capital Group, an institutional broker-dealer located in Stamford, Conn., and author of "The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life" (Wiley, April 2014).
Originally published on Business News Daily.