Today is Commencement Day at Kellogg! This is one of the best days of the year on campus. Graduates are taking pictures, visiting the Global Hub with family, and getting ready to walk across the stage.
Marking these moments in life is important. This is a particularly happy milestone, full of hopes and anticipation. It is bitter-sweet, too, as a memorable phase of life ends.
I traditionally post some financial advice to the graduates, but this year I will focus on broader career suggestions instead. If you want financial advice, you can take a look at my posts from 2021 or prior years. With the stock market bouncing around the advice to live a modest life, consistently save and invest for the long-term is more important than ever.
So, graduates, here are four things to keep in mind as you launch the next phase of your career.
In the next few weeks, you will start working, now as a Kellogg graduate. For most of you, this will be a new company or position.
As you start, focus on making a good impression. Your personal brand – your reputation – matters. If people think you are smart, enthusiastic and a great team-player, good things will happen. You will get opportunities and promotions. If you make a mistake, people will forgive you.
People form impressions quickly. Research tells us that people make judgements in just a few seconds. By the time your first month has gone by, you will have established your brand.
Start strong! Get in early. Dress well. Create powerful presentations. Look for ways to be helpful. If someone needs a report copied, make the copies. Be super enthusiastic. Don’t complain. If you end up with a desk in the furnace room in the basement, say “Wow! I love this; I’m so happy to actually have a desk, and this will be warm in the winter months!”
Most important – double check your work. Read your emails three times before sending them. Look for typos. Consider asking a colleague to review a document before giving it to your boss.
This is particularly true with the numbers. Check things twice. Make sure you are using the right numbers. Ask people around you to review the calculations.
Don’t say too much! You will be tempted to provide your opinions, “In business school, we talked about the Quad 7-Z model, and I think it fits this situation.” This won’t go over well. Remember that you are new, and you don’t know a lot. So, you should watch, listen, and learn. And ask questions outside the big meeting.
If you get off to a solid start, you will be well on your way.
Careers are long. You will start working this summer and begin your post-Kellogg career. This career will likely go on for fifty years.
That isn’t an exaggeration at all. If you are 25 today, then there is a good chance you will be working in some fashion or other at age 75. The Rolling Stones are performing as they close in on 80. People are living longer and longer.
When you realize it is a 50-year journey, you will look at things differently. What is two years? Not much. It is just a small piece of the puzzle, just one short chapter in the book.
So, as you consider career moves, think about where things are heading. The question isn’t: “Will I like this new job?” The question is: “Will I like the job I will get after this job?”
Be careful about jumping too quickly to the next job. Remember that nothing is perfect, and you can learn things anywhere. If you don’t like your job, sometimes the best thing to do is hang in there for a while. Learn what you can. Get some time on the resume. In some ways, it is a liberating situation; if you don’t like your job, you won’t be too concerned if you get canned.
Over the years, you will accumulate skills, experiences, and assets. These are all good things. But they aren’t as important as relationships.
For a successful career and life, you need quality relationships. Connections matter.
In your personal life, this is of course true. It is also important in your professional life. If you form a relationship based on trust and respect and friendship, you have an incredible asset. This person will be there for you when you call. This person will help you. And you will help them.
There are colleagues I worked with at Kraft Foods that I interact with now twenty years later. I think they are fabulous people. If they asked me to fly to Los Angeles tomorrow, I would fly to Los Angeles.
The first step is creating them. Learn about people as people. Then help them succeed. Cheer them on. I love seeing musicians singing along while a bandmate takes center stage. Or the gymnasts watching and cheering as a team-mate does their routine.
And then keep in touch! Write down the names. You will think you won’t forget them, but if you aren’t careful, you will.
One of the most powerful exercises I did at Kraft Foods was at an off-site on work-life balance. The facilitator had everyone take a test before the session, and the results showed how you were doing in twelve or so different aspects of life. How was the career going? Your personal life? Your friendships? Your financial life? Fitness? Spirituality? Service? Interests?
It highlighted two things. First, that there are many parts of life. It isn’t just about work, or family. A full life is a mix of many different things. Second, nobody is strong in every area. We all have things to work on, all the time.
Keep that in mind. Don’t just focus on work. If work is your only thing, then when work goes poorly – and it will sometimes – your life goes poorly. It is easy to get discouraged, and this sprit won’t turn things around. If you have other things, you will find it easier to balance, “Yes, work isn’t going well, but I have my activities and my friends and my faith.” You will be better at work, too, if you don’t expect work to provide all your fulfillment.
Best of luck, keep in touch and do good things.