Education / Parenting

11 More Pieces of Advice to Help your Grad Get Ready for the Real World

"11 More Pieces of Advice to Help your Grad Get Ready for the Real World"In part one, we discussed things like “be creative and bold,  stay in the drivers seat of your career” and nine other words of wisdom to get ready for life after school.

Here are 11 more words of wisdom for the new graduate in your life!

Own your mistakes. No matter how much you know or how hard you try, you are going to make mistakes as you pursue your career. The question is, how will you handle them? Carpenter cautions all graduates not to follow in the footsteps of a former coworker he refers to as “Never,” who never took responsibility for any mistakes and never apologized for anything.

“Never was actually very good at what she did, but her insistence on passing the blame and refusing to admit her errors cost her all of the respect, support, and goodwill she could have earned,” he comments. “Here’s the lesson: Refusing to own your mistakes doesn’t make you seem more competent; it reveals cowardice, callousness, and untrustworthiness.

“Tell your child that if he is a hardworking, valued employee, when he does own up to his mistakes, his confession will be viewed as a sign of strength, not weakness, by his coworkers,” Carpenter insists. “Plus, he’ll be in a position to learn and improve.”

Be a good steward of the “little” things. For example, always proofread your emails for errors before pressing “send.” Don’t leave voicemails unanswered at the end of the day. Keep your desk and computer files organized. Call your clients to share progress, even when a report isn’t required.

“Most people don’t think much of letting the so-called ‘little things’ slide,” notes Carpenter. “They think it’s okay to cut ‘unimportant’ corners. So when your child pays attention to small, often-overlooked details, she’ll distinguish herself from the pack. Trust me, putting in just a little more work than most people are willing to is a great way to propel yourself toward success.”

If you want to be a leader, act like one. If your graduate’s goal is to be at the forefront of his field’s innovation and growth, he may feel discouraged when his first job is composed of tasks a trained monkey could do. But don’t let him succumb to the I’ll never get there from here or the What I do in this position doesn’t matter line of thinking. Instead, advise him to get a head start developing the leadership qualities he’ll need in the future.

“The best way to move up in the ranks is to lead in whatever position you’re in now,” confirms Carpenter. “Even if you’re the lowest man or woman on the totem pole, you can still display leadership qualities like having integrity and a good attitude, providing others with helpful feedback, and treating them with respect. The fact is, very few employees consistently show leadership skills. If you’re the exception from day one, the Powers That Be will notice.”

Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. One basic requirement for doing an outstanding job is to handle all your work-related tasks, large or small, in a timely manner. Tell your graduate that if her job is to get a report done by Friday, get it done by Friday. If HR asks her to fill out a form today, do it promptly.

“Yes, meeting deadlines sounds like a no-brainer,” Carpenter admits. “But you’d be surprised by how many professionals don’t live by this rule. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been handed excuses and requests for extensions instead of the finished product. But I can tell you that that type of behavior is not going to do your child any favors in the workplace.”

Don’t let anyone have anything negative to say about you. Over the course of their careers, many people encounter individuals whose opinions they think don’t matter and whose actions they think won’t impact them. These people may also believe their position gives them license to dispense with politeness and consideration. Beware: Those assumptions could get your child into big trouble. In many companies, for example, the most hated people are the assistants who treat people in a high-handed way because they work for the boss.

“Everyone your child comes in contact with should have a positive experience with him,” says Carpenter. “Even if someone is a pest, rude, or stupid, instruct your child to always treat him respectfully. One day he may be working with, or for, that person. Also, mention that how his boss views him will be heavily influenced by what people in the company tell that boss.”

Don’t complain about your job to your coworkers. There will be plenty of things your child won’t like about her first (and second, and fifth) job. But complaining about them around the water cooler—even if she has a very sympathetic audience—is never a good idea.

“If negative comments get back to your child’s boss, she will develop a reputation for unprofessional behavior,” assures Carpenter. “Moreover, her boss will wonder why she didn’t talk to him directly. Anytime your child is unhappy with something at work, whether it’s her workload, the tasks she’s being given, or how she’s being treated by a coworker, instruct her to bring those concerns directly to her supervisor. If she feels that isn’t possible, tell her to continue to do the best job she can while looking for a more suitable position.”

A single act can ruin your great reputation. In The Bigs, Carpenter tells the story of a client called “Hoops.” Friendly and accommodating, Hoops taught Carpenter a lot about the bond market and achieved an impressive level of personal success. However, one bad decision—not disclosing a sales arrangement to his firm—knocked him out of the game forever. What might have been a negotiated discount was now an illegal kickback. Hoops never recovered.

“It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, but a single act can destroy it,” notes Carpenter. “Most mistakes can be corrected and don’t do lasting damage to a person’s reputation or career. However, some things cannot be undone, and, unfortunately for Hoops, his transgression was one of those. Don’t allow your child to play fast and loose with his reputation. Make sure he doesn’t assume that ‘it will never happen to me.’ Tell him not to do anything he would be embarrassed to see as a headline on the evening news!”

Don’t pick fights you can’t win. Fighting in the office is a bad idea, period. It makes people unhappy and unproductive and is a huge waste of time and energy. Nevertheless, Carpenter acknowledges that serious office disputes are a fact of life for many people at some point during their careers. Tell your child that if she ever feels the pressing need to take on a coworker, to do so only if she knows with certainty she will win.

“While I was the CEO of my firm, an employee I’ll call Mr. Nuts began bragging to his coworkers that he soon expected to have my job!” recalls Carpenter. “Now, Mr. Nuts had a sledgehammer way of dealing with people and the bad reputation that comes along with it. I had tried to coach him on how better to deal with others, but the lessons never seemed to take. So, when I found out he had turned on his one supporter—me!—I couldn’t believe it. The next workday was Mr. Nuts’s last day at that company.

“I still shake my head in amazement that this man thought he could pick a fight with a CEO and get away with it,” he adds. “Admittedly, that’s an extreme example, but you and your graduate can take this lesson away from it: Don’t do anything that could antagonize someone who has the power to influence the direction of your career.”

Don’t badmouth your coworkers. This is Carpenter’s personal golden rule for business: Never say anything negative about anybody in your office. Pass it on to your graduate: Don’t vent about your boss in the break room. Don’t gripe about your coworker with the rest of the team. Don’t even make fun of John’s crazy tie, unless he’s right there laughing with you.

“These comments have a way of getting back to the people they’re about,” observes Carpenter. “One of the things I’m most ashamed of in my career is badmouthing a colleague for no good reason. The things I said had a negative effect on our working relationship for years, until I finally reached out with a heartfelt apology. And guess what? Even if the other person never becomes aware of what you said, your colleagues will still make judgments about your character based on your willingness to bash someone else behind his or her back.”

Live within your means. Like many young people who are just beginning to support themselves, your graduate may think that his personal finances (whether they’re good or bad) won’t impact his life in the workplace. According to Carpenter, that’s wishful thinking, especially if your child is struggling to stay solvent. It can be difficult to check personal stressors at the office door, meaning that if he’s worried about money, his anxiety might impact his focus, his performance, and even the values he applies to his work.

“You probably know from personal experience that the easiest path to achieving financial security, or at least reducing financial stress, is to discipline your spending habits,” says Carpenter. “Here’s what I told my own child: ‘If there’s any way you can help it, don’t spend more than you earn. If you don’t yet make a lot of money, don’t acquire a taste for expensive things. I promise you will be happier in a small apartment, driving an older car, drinking cheap wine than you will be in a big apartment, driving a fancy car, drinking expensive wine, and having to worry about how to pay for it all.’”

Don’t forget to have fun. Finally, remind your graduate that while she’ll need to put her nose to the grindstone, she shouldn’t forget to remove it every once in awhile!

“I mean it!” Carpenter says. “While work should certainly be a priority, it’s also important to have fun and disengage every once in awhile. The fuller and more satisfying your child’s life is in general, the more effective she’ll be at work. Plus, part of living a happy life is having friends and family to share it with.”

Even though plenty has changed since the days we, the parents, were entering the job market, the important things haven’t, notes Carpenter. The fundamentals of hard work, integrity, respect, perseverance, and so forth still lead to success—so when advising your child, feel free to draw on your own experiences.

“Make a point to have a conversation about the lessons you think she most needs to take to heart—perhaps over a celebratory dinner or while packing up her dorm room,” he suggests. “Most of all, help your child to understand that when you live and work by a code that’s shaped by values, integrity, dedication, and a true team spirit, you will set yourself apart from the other rookies in a way that gets you hired, recognized, and promoted.”

About the Author:
Ben Carpenter is author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life. He began his career as a commercial lending officer at the Bankers Trust Company. Two years later he joined Bankers Trust’s Primary Dealer selling U.S. Treasury bonds. After a brief stop at Morgan Stanley, Ben joined Greenwich Capital, which, during his 22-year career there, became one of the most respected and profitable firms on Wall Street. At Greenwich Capital, Ben was a salesman, trader, sales manager, co-chief operating officer, and co-CEO.

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