The 10 Best Pieces Of Advice A College Graduate Will Ever Receive

by Dan Schawbel

Giving advice to college graduates is extremely important to me because I was one of them, and even though the economy was better back in 2006, it took me eight months to find a marketing job. I succeeded because I started working for it six months before graduation, collected eight internships, seven leadership positions on campus and graduated with honors.

I failed because I didn’t know how to build and leverage relationships. Either way, I learned a lot about what it takes to build a successful career over the years. Good career choices are extremely important early in your career because you can set yourself up for success later on.

Even though you might end up in a completely different career, the skills you acquire and the people you meet are what will open the doors for you. I dedicate this post to the class of 2013, a group of optimistic millennials who have a lot to offer to the world!

The job market is still tough for graduates, unless you’re an in-demand engineer or accountant. Two-thirds of college students have debt and 39 percent live with their parents. In 2012, 284,000 students graduated into minimum wage jobs, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Companies only expect to hire 2.1 percent more graduates this year than they did in 2012, and 66 percent of recruiters believe that college graduates aren’t prepared for the working world. Although there are clear obstacles to finding work, there are also a lot of big opportunities that students can take advantage of. The following are ten things that new graduates should do to get ahead in their careers. Of course, older generations can benefit from these, too.

10. Think of your career as a series of experiences

The most optimistic and intelligent way to look at your career isn’t how long you stay with one employer or that you focus on what you majored in at college. You need to collect experiences throughout your careers, whether it be with five employers or ten, with one business function or five, or in one country or three.

The idea is that you need to be a lifelong learner if you want to make an impact, succeed and feel accomplished. The experiences you have expand your worldview, give you new perspectives and make you a more interesting person.

 9. Don’t settle for a job you’re not passionate about

A lot of people are pushing college graduates to just get a job to pay the bills and that isn’t the greatest advice because research shows that you won’t last long in such positions.

Furthermore, no smart company is going to have someone who is only there to make money because there’s always someone else who wants it more. When you’re passionate about your job, you’re excited. You work longer hours and end up accomplishing much more. Life is too short to settle for a career that you hate!

8. Focus on making a big impact immediately

The quicker you make an impact in a company, the more attention and support you will get. Millennials fully understand this because they won’t want to wait five years to get started on a project where they can make this type of impact. Starting on day one, you have to learn as much as possible and start mastering your job so you can latch on to the bigger projects faster and prove yourself.

By doing this, you will explode your career and become more valuable in your company, which will increase your pay, place you in a position for a higher title, and you’ll get to work on better projects.

7. Take risks early and often in your career

One of the important lessons this economy has taught us is that not taking risks is risky. There is so much out of our control, and if we just keep doing what we did yesterday, we won’t get ahead. By taking a risk, you are putting yourself in a position to learn, whether you succeed or fail. You’re also showing to your management that you’re willing to put your reputation on the line to make things happen. As we become an ever more entrepreneurial society, those that take risks, both inside and outside of the corporate walls, will become more successful than those who do not.

6. Spend more time with people than with your laptop

Students are plugged in and don’t understand that the strongest relationships are formed in person, not online. I constantly see students looking down at their iPhones and iPads instead of at people’s faces, and it’s a missed opportunity. Soft skills will always be more cherished in companies, so it’s important to drop your technology and actually communicate with people. People hire you, not technology, and you have to remember that!

5. Measure your work outcomes and build case studies

If you look at any student resume, they almost always look the same. They have the same fields (education, experience, school activities, etc.). Under these experience fields, they list companies and provide general information about their positions, such as “managed XXX project.” They dress up their experience bullets so they can turn menial tasks into something more marketable.

The problem is that recruiters today, and especially in the future, are looking for outcomes. They want to know the numeric impact you’re having on a company through your work, which means increasing revenue or decreasing costs. Always think about measuring your projects and keeping track of the results because that’s what’s going to help you justify promotions.

4. Sacrifice today to position yourself for tomorrow

You can’t have everything you want today, so you need to work hard to put yourself in a better position for the future. From 2007 to 2009, I put in over one hundred hours a week working on something I loved. As a result, I now have the freedom to do what I want, when I want. While others would have used that time to go out every night and party, I realized the bigger picture, and you can too. The more you do early in your career, the more it will pay off later in life, and you will be thankful, just as I am.

3. Start your own website to centralize your work profile

You need a single place where you can store everything you accomplish and that should be a website under your name ( By doing this, you can easily refer others to your work, whether it be hiring managers or looking for people for freelance projects. As you grow and develop your career, add new projects, education, skills and examples of your work to your website. Your website is a living, breathing resume that is always available to people, even while you’re asleep.

2. Travel as much as you can, while learning about cultures and languages 

We live in a global marketplace, and companies are looking to expand and hire the best talent, regardless of location. The more you travel and experience the world, the better you will be at serving this marketplace and taking advantage of it. Furthermore, if you’re learning new languages, you are ahead of the curve. It’s hard for companies to find workers who are fluent in languages, so if that’s you, you’re instantly more marketable.

1. Locate mentors who lead your desired lifestyle

Most students aren’t selective about mentors and just feel fortunate to have them in the first place. I believe you need to choose the right mentor, who you can support you and has time to do so.

That person should be someone in your industry who is living the lifestyle that you dream of. This way, your mentor can tell you exactly what you need to accomplish to reach their level of expertise. For instance, if you want to travel and do consulting in the future, find someone who has a job at McKinsey, or maybe Accenture, to mentor you. Based on your meetings with this person, you might even decide that the consulting lifestyle isn’t a good match for you after all.

Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the author of the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future. His second book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, will be released in 2013 by St. Martin’s Press.

View the free webcast of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success

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Top Photo Courtesy ABC News/ Amanda Jonovski