Crushing It in the Real World: 10 Strategic Tips for Newly Minted Graduates

WHAHOO, you did it, Congratulations! Graduation is a seminal event…a key milestone in your life. You have completed your formal education (for now) and are ready to enter the working world — the place everyone is fond of telling you is the “real” world. This new reality may seem a bit daunting, since you are essentially starting from scratch and have virtually nothing over the millions of other graduates who are also venturing out into the real world.

Unlike previous generations of graduates, you are not just competing with graduates in your locale, you are competing with graduates everywhere in the world. Today’s job market is both global and virtual. Many of the good jobs that are available today can likely be performed remotely, by well-educated, hardworking, talented graduates just like you, but who probably are willing to work for a lot less money than you are hoping to make. How do you compete? How do you stand out?

In school, you probably played to your strengths and relied on your advantages to make your way. You distinguished yourself by making good grades, being a good athlete or student leader, getting involved in extracurricular programs, working part time jobs or interning during breaks. That same discipline, and the habits and lessons you learned, will no doubt serve you well in the real world. But to really crush it, you have to develop new strengths and create new advantages. You have to be more than good. You have to be strategic.

Here are ten tips for creating a long-term strategy to crush it in the real world:

1. Catch a Wave

What you do is not as important as where you do it. Your job or profession is a commodity. You can go to work as a marketer in the newspaper industry, which has lost about 33% of its jobs and continues to be in freefall, or you can go to work as a marketer in the 3D printing industry, which is growing at 35% per year. The people who have had the most lucrative and fulfilling careers caught a wave early on and rode it for all it was worth. They started a company or joined one in a new space, or rode in the wake of companies that were reinventing an existing industry.

Real world strategic decision #1: pick a growth sector.

2. Hook Your Star to an Innovator

Innovative companies not only create the most jobs; they generally create the highest paying jobs. It’s not enough to pick a hot sector, you have to pick the right company within the sector. In fact, going to work for the leader in a growth sector might prove fatal. The upstarts are aiming to disrupt the leaders and make their solutions irrelevant. Early-stage companies are often the best place to get the most experience in the shortest amount of time. You can rarely go wrong staking your claim alongside an innovator.

Real world strategic decision #2: look for the upstarts that are driving the new innovations in a growth sector.

3. Follow the Leader

When you are starting your career you will have a manager. It will be tempting to adopt that person as your mentor. Managers love to have protégés to mold in their image. That path may make you a good manager one day. But if you want to crush it, you need to become a leader, not just a manager. There’s a big difference. A Manager will show you how to do things right. A Leader will show you how to do the right things. That person may bring you along when they join another company, or start their own. If you can’t find a mentor, adopt a role model.

Real world strategic decision #3: find and follow a mentor who is a proven leader.

4. Forget the Money, Stay Flexible

Your first instinct will be to take the highest paying job you can get. That’s understandable, you probably have student loans to pay off. You’ll have rent…eventually a mortgage, a car payment, insurance and living expenses. You might want to start a family…take on debt. Doing those things right away, and taking a job in service of those things, may trap you forever. They will certainly limit your options. The sole pursuit of money now could prevent you from making a lot of it in the long run, or from finding your dream job.

Real world strategic decision #4: delay immediate gratification, don’t take a job solely for the money. Keep your options open.

5. Pursue Diversity, Not Specialization

The world is becoming increasingly specialized and it demands a highly-trained and specialized workforce. The world is designed to make you a cog in a wheel, because that is what makes it go round. Avoid being categorized, departmentalized, or otherwise pigeonholed. It’s fine to take a specialized job, just don’t allow it to define you, or to become the only thing you can do. Pursue different positions and diverse experiences early in your career. Change professions, jobs and/or companies every 2–3 years. Once you stop learning and growing at a place, leave.

Real world strategic decision #5: don’t stay in the same job or do the same work year-in and year-out. Open yourself up to as many different experiences as you can possibly get, while keeping up-to-date on your specialized skills.

6. Close the Pivotal Skills Gap

Your formal education taught you the basics and gave you a foundation to build upon, but imparted precious few real-world skills. Crushing it in the real world entails a pivotal set of skills that must be learned, practiced, and fine-tuned to support your goals and aspirations. There is a specific set of skills common among the most successful people. They include written and oral communications, problem solving, interpersonal relationships, sales/persuasion, decision-making, and personal/project management (making things happen, driving results).

Real world strategic decision #6: know what skills you’ll need to do whatever it is you want to do, then acquire them and keep them current. See yourself as a life project that will never be finished, but continually improved.

7. Practice Professionalism

The world is so full of amateurs, the true professional always stands out. It is not what people do for a living that makes them a pro, it’s how they conduct themselves. Professionalism is not the exclusive domain of managers and executives, or those whose jobs require advanced degrees. Professionalism can be learned and practiced by anyone, in any line of work. The entry-level waitress can exhibit remarkable professionalism, while the highest paid CEO can be a crass and unprofessional dolt. In all of our endeavors, it’s always a pleasure to work with a true professional — and to refer them to our friends and colleagues. Be one of those people.

Real world strategic decision #7: Don’t just try to look and act the part at work. Be the part. Make it part of who you are…all the time…a true professional.

8. Retreat, Reflect and Recharge Regularly

It’s a misnomer that successful people don’t take vacations and never take their eyes off the ball. They may not call it a vacation, but they retreat, rest and reflect. Your world view and personal perspective must be adjusted regularly. Your energy must be replenished. Many of the world’s most successful people say their life-changing inspiration came to them while traveling abroad, or lying on a beach looking up at the stars. Scheduling an annual retreat to revisit your long-term goals and short-term objectives will give you an amazing competitive advantage — and it’s good for the soul!

Real world strategic decision #8: take time for yourself. Think big, strive for balance, and constantly reassess your goals and direction.

9. Reach Out, Change It Up

Work life and home life can become routine. Routine can lull you into a comfortable complacency. You can become more-and-more insulated — the same people, the same places, the same activities. You slowly become risk-adverse and, that, more than any other factor, will limit your real-world potential. Force yourself to meet new people, join new groups, and extend your network. New relationships are the life-blood of a successful career.

Real world strategic decision #9: get out of your comfort zone. Keep things fresh. Take some calculated risks. Proactively pursue new projects and new relationships.

10. Time Is Your Friend; Squandering It Your Enemy

Despite what some experts say about your job prospects, or the economy in general, there has never been a better time to be a graduate and to launch your career. Consider this:

  • The greatest transition of wealth and power in the history of the world will take place over the next 10–20 years, and you are perfectly positioned to get some of it!
  • You’re young, you have time on your side. The vast majority of people who now hold the good jobs will be retired or dead before you know it. Many others will be pushed out because they can’t keep up.
  • The third world is rising and billions of people will have mobility and money to spend for the first time. Think of the new companies and products that will be created in that wake.
  • Good news/bad news, the planet itself is dying. That means entire new industries will be born to save it, or to colonize elsewhere. Not to mention the aging population creating demand for solutions that will enable them to live a longer and healthier life.

Yes, it’s a GREAT time to be entering the “real” world, so full of problems and opportunities. Time is on your side…for now, but the same exact number of hours are available to every other graduate on the planet. It goes quickly and, (snap) just like that, it’s no longer on your side. Use it wisely…purposely. Don’t squander it, use it to get prepared. How you use time may be the defining factor in what you ultimately achieve in life.

Real world strategic decision #10: Use this time to experiment, validate or discard new ideas, test the waters, make mistakes, learn, grow, and plan your ascension. Say yes to everything that makes you smarter and forces you to get better.

Godspeed!

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