You’ve got that all-important piece of paper: Your college diploma now rests in your hands and the future looks bright. But those new credentials will only get you so far, says author Ben Carpenter.
Carpenter believes young grads will have an uphill battle in today’s brutal workplace. Hiring managers in some cases are suspicious of “Gen Y” and will question whether grads are ready for real jobs. They are going to study resumes as if they were textbooks for errors. They’re going to ask tough questions. And they’re going to look for attitudes, he warns.
Carpenter is author of the new book “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.”
Carpenter has done it all, from opening his own bar to working his way through the Wall Street ranks to becoming the CEO of a major international financial services company. In his book, Carpenter lays out a blueprint that employees of any age and level of experience (not just recent grads) can use to get—and do—a great job.
“But it’s not the typo that really matters—it’s what it says about you. Your communication skills. Your work ethic. Your attitude toward details. Your drive to do what it takes to get the job,” Carpenter said. “There are lots of ways to inadvertently live up to the bad rap new grads get. My point is that too many people already assume you can’t hack it in the real world. It’s up to you to prove them wrong.”
Here, he shares some things college grads need to know right now to stack the odds for professional success:
Don’t think about what you want to do. Think about what you can do. You’re probably trying to find a job that will fuel your passion and make you happy. If so, Carpenter’s 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.
“Choosing a career you can do well, rather than one that seems fun and exciting, might sound unappealing—but it isn’t,” he said. “The satisfaction you get from doing your job well will far outweigh how entertaining it is. Plus, think about how unhappy you’d be if your heart’s desire failed to pay the bills. From personal experience, as well as from observing family, friends, and coworkers, I can state that most professionals are happiest doing what they are good at, while pursuing other passions—that their careers give them the means to finance—on the side,” he adds.
Always ask yourself, What’s my edge? In other words, what makes you unique and different? Why should other people pay attention to you? What do you have to offer? What gives you an edge over the competition?
“This is a great question to ask yourself in a multitude of professional scenarios, not just when you’re interviewing,” says Carpenter. “If you’re starting a business, it can help you to define your product or service’s niche. If you’re going after a promotion, it can help differentiate you from your coworkers. In all situations, it will help you define how you can become your personal best.”
Understand whose problem you’re trying to solve. Carpenter emphasizes that the key to being offered a job is showing the interviewer that his or her company needs you.
“Most young people I interview think their goal is to convince me how smart, accomplished, or nice they are,” he shares. “And yes, those are all laudable qualities. But the fact is, I’m not looking for Miss or Mister Congeniality. I’m looking for the best person to help my company succeed! In other words, interviews aren’t about solving your problem (finding a job); they’re about solving the employer’s problem. Every word that comes out of your mouth has to support that goal. Before sharing something about yourself, consider why the person sitting across from you should care.”
Think of your boss and your company before yourself. When you’re a rookie in the big leagues, you have to prove that you’re going to be an asset to the team, not a drain on its resources or a liability for the coach. Often, that means putting your boss’s wants and needs ahead of your own.
For instance, it’s a good idea to: show up before your boss and leave after she does…schedule personal appointments after business hours…work six months before you take vacation days…respond to phone calls and emails ASAP, even at night, on the weekends, during vacations.
“I get that many of these things don’t sound like your idea of fun,” Carpenter says. “You might even think some of them are ‘unfair.’ But remember—it’s your job to make your boss’s life easier, not the other way around. Everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up. And when you show that you’re willing to sacrifice your own interests for the good of the team, you’ll have gotten a huge head start on being named Rookie of the Year.”
Don’t agree to anything you don’t fully understand. Once you have your foot in the door, you’ll likely want to impress your colleagues and higher-ups at every turn. And in an attempt to avoid looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, you may be tempted to feign understanding and nod your head, even though you really have no clue what’s going on. Don’t.
“Early in my career, a client bullied me into saying ‘yes’ to a request I didn’t understand—and it cost my employer $25,000,” recalls Carpenter. “While covering up your own ignorance might not come with such a steep price tag, it’s still something you should avoid at all costs. Your integrity, credibility, and reputation—and possibly your job!—are all at stake. It’s always better to swallow your pride and say, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I need you to explain.’ Oh—and that’s just as applicable in your personal dealings as it is in your career.”
When you’re upset, choose to look forward, not back. You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react and move forward.
“Maybe you’ve been handed an undesirable task at work, been blamed for your boss’s mistake, or been interrupted by an overzealous colleague during a client meeting for the thousandth time,” Carpenter says. “Sure, you can choose to focus on your anger and irritation for hours, or even days. But that doesn’t do you a bit of good. Instead, resolve to channel your thoughts and efforts toward playing the hand you’ve been dealt in a way that will benefit you the most.”
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 you pay attention to small, often-overlooked details, you’ll distinguish yourself from the pack. Trust me, putting in just a little more work than most people are willing to do is a great way to propel yourself toward success.”
Don’t forget to have fun. If you want to succeed, you’ll need to put your nose to the grindstone. Just don’t forget to remove it every once in a while.
“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 life is in general, the more effective you’ll be at work. Plus, part of living a happy life is having friends and family to share it with.”