As I said goodbye to this year's excited graduates, I thought back to all the advice I'd given and been given at one time or another. Thinking of lessons I learned from observation or through trial and error during my time in industry, I recognize several steps that can make the transition from business school to working professional easier and more successful. Some are easy, while others require a fundamental mindset shift from the perspective of campus life.
1. Show up. The days of skipping a class for legitimate (or less legitimate) reasons are over. Employers expect everyone to be present. Absences take away from vacation or sick time; it's prudent to save those for when they're needed, such as taking vacation--which is critical for work/life balance. Power through those days when you "just can't even."
2. Be a good coworker. One of the best pieces of advice I got early on was to be easy to work with. You don't have to be a 10 on absolutely everything, but if you are a hard worker and a pleasant colleague, people will want you around. The quality of your output and a professional manner of delivery matter, but don't neglect being a pleasant team member.
3. Make connections. Want to ensure you are valued? Make good connections inside the company with people who aren't on your team. Knowing people from other departments and functions is valuable. Being able to translate your lingo into theirs makes you an attractive person to keep around. One of my most valued skills was being able to translate between marketing and technology groups, and that made me a desired team member.
4. Keep a distance. Virtually. While I suggest making connections, don't follow all of your coworkers and bosses in social media. It opens you up for scrutiny, and do you really know who you will trust and like a year into the job? If someone sends an unwanted request, reciprocate with a LinkedIn invite. You really don't want to see your manager's beach vacation, and they shouldn't see your personal life either.
5. Practice good LinkedIn behaviors. You are most attractive to potential employers when you're hired and being productive. Do not wait until things go south (think layoffs) to start connecting with people and updating your page. Remember out of sight, out of mind; to maintain visibility, share regular updates, including links about the work you're doing. Oh, and head shots count; if most profiles get a glance as best, make sure you look like a true pro. Bonus tip, don't post about your lunch or your polarizing political opinions. You are marketing yourself here, not providing a deep personal exposé of your life.
6. Be on time (aka avoid the coffee flip off). Nothing shows disrespect like walking into a meeting late with a fresh cup of coffee. It says "my caffeine was more important than this meeting and my coworkers' time." It's disrespectful to everyone involved, and it makes meetings run longer. If you miss your normal cup of coffee, grab it afterwards.
7. Turn things in on time. If you fail to turn in something on time in the workplace, it has downstream consequences for everyone that was waiting on the deliverable. If this was an input to a client project, you may not get a second chance. A missed client deadline could result in losing the client and layoffs in the worst case scenario. A quick way to lose goodwill is for someone to have to chase you. Set reminders, build a schedule, and be known for turning things in promptly. Be clear in communication and commitment (as outlined in the next point). The days of extended deadlines and extra credit are long gone.
8. Practice solid email behaviors. Nobody wants to read a rambling email. Use a proper greeting and get to the point. Make it very clear what the 'ask' is, and set a time frame for when you need both the reply and the action; this is called an effective request. If the reader has to guess what the request is or why the email is relevant, the email failed its purpose.
Additionally, focus on quality of content (spelling and grammar), and use bullet points to improve readability and encourage brevity. Proofread the document for errors, and then proof it again for tone. Often, what is meant to be a succinct message may come off as short and demanding--pleasantries still matter. Compile content into a single email instead of sending multiple emails; nobody like seeing their inbox overflow. And don't forget, sending the email alone doesn't mean the action is complete; you may need to follow up or ask questions if something is unclear.
9. Become a specialist. While it's great to be a Swiss Army knife of broad skills, employers want to know where you excel. One area I encourage fledgling marketers to embrace is digital. Anyone can do the Google AdWords, Google Analytics, and Hubspot certifications for free, but investing the enrollment fee in Hootsuite and Salesforce certifications can pay off. Having these additional credentials can make the difference in your career development within a company and opportunities outside of it. Whether you earn certifications or just deeply follow an area of your discipline, work to become an expert. Professional blogs and social media are great ways to connect with others with the same interests and share your expertise. Just stay current. It will help you move up in your current job and make you attractive to future opportunities.
10. Put your phone down. There are many reasons we don't allow mobile phones in class, and these reasons extend to meeting etiquette in the workplace. If you are responding to texts or emails when a clients's needs are being detailed, you will miss something. Also it's rude to everyone else in the meeting, again signaling whatever you are doing is more important than their time, the topic of the meeting, and ultimately, the final deliverable. Put it on vibrate and put it up. Be an engaged and helpful participant. This just can't be done if you are more interested in texting or Snapchat.
11. Learn to take feedback. Throughout school, professors gave feedback in the form of comments on individual assignments and grades. Seek feedback. The hardest part is not taking the feedback personally. If managers see team members take feedback with grace and improve upon those issues, that's an absolute positive. Document progress in areas identified for improvement, and communicate these regularly. While humbling and time-consuming, this will show commitment and make you a more valuable employee.
12. Seek mentors everywhere. Mentors exist in person and virtually. Connect with people within both your company and industry for advice and direction. Additionally, connect with virtual mentors. A great example is former DKNY exec, Aliza Licht. She has a must-read book for new marketing grads called Leave Your Mark, and her Blackboard emails tackle a variety of career issues new professionals might face. I have referred numerous students to her resources, and her TEDxTimesSquare talk is a staple in my course. Soak up all the wisdom you can, and then pay it forward later in your career. Oh, and tell mentors thank you--it validates the effort the put in.
BONUS Unsolicited life advice. Take your vacation days. Sleep in on weekends. Don't buy a new car fresh out of school--pay down any loans you have. Start building your credit, but pay off your cards monthly. Only use cards with travel awards. Read blogs and connect on Twitter--your dream job may just be a tweet away. Say thank you and pay kindness forward. Take risks and be willing to move for a job. Learn from mistakes and be transparent when they happen. Above all, love your career; you've spent years preparing for it.
I am always both excited and nervous as I see my students graduate. I realize I've done the best I can to prepare them for the job (through coursework, assignments, and even dreaded group work) and for the environment of starting a career (through advice like this woven into the courses). I am encouraged by the types of jobs I see available for new marketing graduates (particularly in digital roles like mobile and social media), and I hope that these words of hard-earned wisdom will be helpful.
If you found a mentor in college, keep in touch. He or she will be happy to hear updates and want to hear the fruits of your efforts. Work hard, and find good life balance. The fun stuff is ahead, and you are prepared for it! Makes us all proud--your professors truly cheer you on long after you have left campus.