“The Three Ex’s”
– Primary Objectives for the New Grad
ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Jaynie, 21, a journalism major at a large Southeastern university, was growing increasingly anxious about “what to do with her life.” Her college years were rapidly drawing to a close. Lots of her friends seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do, and were starting to do it. Some were proceeding right into graduate schools of one type or another; others were starting in what they thought would be “the job of their dreams.” Some were going to work for family businesses. Jaynie just didn’t have a narrow career focus. In fact, she didn’t seem to have any at all. For years she had asked herself, “What do I really want to be?” but the right answer just never came to her.
Though Jaynie wasn’t a client, and wasn’t likely to become one for quite some time, I enjoyed talking with her about her real concerns, and possible dreams. I shared with her a few of the things I’d learned over years of counseling and representing my successful executive clients the age of her parents, and even some the age of their parents, too, regarding career success and job security:
- Many of our clients – especially those in their 40’s and 50’s – came to question the career decisions they’d made at her age.
- Many came to regret not taking the time to get a wider exposure to the working world before deciding on their chosen field.
- Very few people come to love their work. Many don’t like at all what they do for a living, where they spend most of their lives.
- Graduate schools – especially business schools – increasingly look favorably upon, applicants with years of work experience.
- Effective business communicators are in great demand, and effective communication requires understanding different points of view.
- Negotiation of all kinds begins with empathy, and empathy starts with sensitivity to others’ concerns.
- If there’s one time you’re supposed to take chances, it’s when you’re younger and free of life’s major responsibilities; after that, it takes real courage that very few have.
- There’s no better ingredient for success than being at one with yourself, grounded, “integral,” and in your own “best spot.”
Jaynie knew she liked to write. She also knew she loved animals and nature. That was about it. I strongly urged her to apply for nearly every job related to either topic, and to consider even entry-level positions. I encouraged her to always write down what she liked, and what she disliked, about every job she had, and to keep in mind what she learned about herself that way. Sooner or later, I assured her, she’d develop a sense of direction, and possibly even a passion for what she did for a living. I’m not sure she believed me, but she seemed to at least understand the message: What’s “hot” now may be “cold” later; what lights your personal passion will always be your best and perpetual source of career success and job security. And the best time to find your passion – or even your path to your passion — is when you’re younger.
LESSON TO LEARN: According to published research reports, these days “career anxiety” starts as early as 12 years old. When I was that age the greatest concerns of middle school students were sports and pimples. It’s now not at all unusual for middle school students to fret about their chances for career success. And it’s not just fantasies about becoming famous or a multimillionaire that consumes kids these days: they’ve seen – and many share – their parents’ real-life worries about job insecurity. Some have seen their mothers and fathers in the grips of serious, paralyzing career fear, wondering if they’ll ever be employed again. Worry isn’t productive.
In her recently published book entitled “Naked in the Boardroom,” (Simon and Shuster, 2005) former CEO Robin Polaner says of young people, and especially young women, “Most recent college grads earnestly believe that they need a plan for their progression through jobs and life. This is not such a good thing. The fun, the self-discovery and the serendipity of launching a career have been taken out of the process . . . It may be hard to trust your gut in the beginning of your career, but that’s when messages can be the most clear, when you have little experience to go on, and little to lose.” Robin is a friend of mine, and one of the most successful women I know. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, a dedicated and wonderful mother, as well.
Our SkloverWorkingWisdom™ Method of workplace negotiating starts with its most important step: developing “Unique Human Capital,” that is, especially valuable skills, relations or attributes that will be attractive to employers. For recent grads, broad exposure, varied experience and finding your own fountain of excitement is productive, represent just such “unique human capital.” While specialization, the filling of a niche, is a good source of “unique human capital,” developing a niche in an area that does not suit you will, in the long run, not be helpful. Foundation is necessary first.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you know a recent or soon-to-be graduate, encourage him or her to take a broader view of things, and not to worry too much about a rapid career trajectory. Whatever career fields are “hot” right now will probably not be so “hot” when they’re in their prime. Don’t forget: it takes a 747 jet airliner far longer to get off the runway than it does for a single engine two-seater. But, ask yourself: Which aircraft would you prefer to travel in to go far, say, across an ocean? Better start off slowly, and build a base for success, founded in what we call “The New Grad’s Three Ex’s”:
1. Exposure: Get to know the world of work, and get to know yourself by doing so. Sooner than you think, you’ll begin understanding your own special place within that work world. Don’t be afraid to take any job, if only to find out what you like about it, and what you don’t. Exposure to a variety of industries, companies and roles just can’t be bad for you, but to the contrary, very helpful to you in finding your best “career spot.” As Robin Polaner says, “You’re not making much money, so you can afford to risk a change.” Exposure to different companies, different corporate cultures, and different management styles provides critically important perspective. Which, by the way, very few people have. It’s a great type of “Unique Human Capital,” the most important factor in our SkloverWorkingWisdom™ Method of Negotiating for Yourself at Work.™
2. Experience: Once you find an industry, company or role that seems to suit you well, strive to gain the most varied experience possible within it. Critical, practical skills once learned are not soon forgotten. Every great building is built one brick at a time. Knowing how the postage meter works can be critical importance to a CEO who’s dedicated to cutting unnecessary costs. And being able to discuss the way floors are polished can cut down on unnecessary slip-and-fall lawsuits. The great Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, was a great proponent of knowing every detail of his business, and of promoting people who understood “the bottom of the bottom line.” Robin Polaner, founding publisher of “Parenting” magazine, adds, “The most valuable lessons I have learned came from observing behavior in the office . . . and vowing to do things differently. ” Once experience is gained, the choice of a specialty, a niche or developing a network can begin, that is. That’s “unique human capital” at its birth.
3. Excitement: First, give yourself the benefit of Exposure. Then, when a job or industry seems like a good fit for you, let yourself Experience every facet of it, to come to an intensive and extensive understanding of “how it really works.” Once you master your trade, once you rise toward the top of your field, once you get the exhilarating sense of being at – or at least near – the “top of the mountain,” your own excitement will carry you to the heights you dream of. You’ll far surpass those who were, from the beginning of their careers, too consumed with climbing step by step to see the sky you’ve found above. Excitement at work is a blessing, and this is the way to it. If you just give yourself the time and opportunity.
If you’re a new grad, or soon to be one, seek first “The Three Ex’s”: Exposure . . . Experience . . .Excitement. You’ll be glad you did. And so will your colleagues, and employers.
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