New Grads: 6 Ways to Start Your Career Off Right, According to the Experts

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Welcome to Recruiter QA, where we pose employment-related questions to the experts and share their answers! Have a question you'd like to ask? Leave it in the comments, and you might just see it in the next installment of Recruiter QA!

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Today's Question: We recently shared some advice from recent grads about starting a career after graduation. Today, we decided to get another perspective on the issue by turning to some established experts. What do they think new graduates need to know about starting their first careers?

We've also included some insights from Dr. Mark Goulston, a leading expert on career success. If you want to hear more from Dr. Goulston, sign up for the upcoming webinar, "5 Ways You're Getting in Your Own Way at Work (And How to Stop)". Register today and you'll receive a free download of Dr. Goulston's best-selling book, Get Out of Your Own Way at Work: Conquer Self-Defeating Behavior at Work.

1. At Work, Your Employer Is Always Your Top Priority

It seems so simple to those with years of experience – or at least it should – but everything you do related to work should either increase the revenues generated by your employer, decrease its expenses, or both.

Taking a long lunch break is therefore a bad idea. Coming in early is therefore a good idea. Using your critical thinking skills to find a better process is a good idea. Blindly following bureaucratic orders because someone told you to do so is a bad idea.

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— Steven Rothberg, College Recruiter

Mark Says...

It is common not to think of the big goals of your company or your boss. You assume that since he or she went to the trouble of hiring you that they are happy to have you around. As long as you do your work, contribute to the bottom line, and don't make waves, you're good. You also tend to believe that working hard gives you extra credit. But ... working hard is not the same as working smart.

2. Temping Is a Great Way to Start Your Career

Unfortunately, I find that lots of new grads are lacking in the kinds of soft skills that are so valuable in an office setting, like conflict resolution, timely communication, and adaptability. Fortunately, grads can learn these skills on the ground and quickly by taking temporary positions.

Four-year degree-holders should put the stigma of temporary work out of their minds. Not only does temporary work allow entry-level workers to "try on" careers they hadn't previously considered, but it also enables them to continue learning and growing – something they likely enjoyed during their college years. Plus, it often leads to full-time work.

— David Dourgarian, TempWorks

3. It's Best to Be on the Cutting-Edge

Organizations of all sizes and in all industries face challenges as they attempt to process and leverage the unprecedented amount of data that is captured today. For new graduates and job seekers entering the workforce, organizations are looking for individuals who are able to use data to drive, influence, and communicate business outcomes to encourage innovative ideas for growth.

New graduates must set themselves apart by being inquisitive and by understanding the business implications of information analysis. Data and analytics are integral in so many industries, whether it is healthcare, retail, or education. Our university has recognized that the workforce must be on the cutting-edge of the skill sets and capacities needed to be professionals in tomorrow's economy.

— Rhonda Capron, University of Phoenix School of Business

Mark Says...

Learning a new skill is tough, but if you reframe the situation, it can be challenging and exhilarating. The trick is to tap into a memory of a time when you did learn something new. If you can clearly visualize the experience – say, learning to ski or to drive, learning to use a computer, learning to read music – and recall the memory of conquering the task, then you may be able to trigger the sense of pleasure that came from the experience. If you don't get ahead of yourself thinking of everything you won't be able to learn, and instead focus on what you have already learned that you thought you couldn't, your fears will dissipate, your mind will unlock, and you will learn new things.

4. Bigger Isn't Always Better When It Comes to Employers

It is tempting to go for big corporations with recognizable brand names, but keep in mind that most of the time, you will be able to take on more responsibility and create real impact with smaller companies.

Also, at your first job out of college, you are essentially paid to learn. So take the job that allows you to learn as much as you can. Learn practical skills and industry knowledge that you could not get while in college.

— Ngan Pham, Rakuna

5. Be Proactive

The biggest opportunity for new grads is to be proactive. What drives leadership and career growth isn't checking boxes, but ownership of one's projects and responsibilities. To be more proactive, do the following things:

- Get to know more people in the organization to learn what their job roles entail and how you can help them.

- Ask for more opportunities to engage with leadership or projects that need someone to champion or drive progress.

- Finish strong. It is not enough to just complete a project. Ask the project owner how you can exceed "good" or "acceptable" and really make it "great."

If new graduates think in a proactive way, they can really drive their careers forward while helping the company find success at the same time.

— Tom Borgerding, Campus Media Group

Mark Says...

So, how do you take a proactive approach to your work? Lee Ryan, founder and head of the Los Angeles–based executive search firm Ryan Miller Associates, recommends thinking ahead of time about the goals you are aiming for and how best to get there. This means taking a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to devote yourself to the most important tasks – and there should be no more than three each day. Accomplish them, and you will find yourself much more productive.

6. Grades and Prestige Won't Get You Far – But Skills Will

Grades don't matter anymore. Where you went to school won't help you on the job. Once you start work after graduation (no matter what type of work it is), it's your ability to demonstrate the more intangible "impact skills" that matter most to your success.

These are things like grit, curiosity, and ownership. There are plenty of ways to hone them if you need to – and most of us need to. When you start that first job, figure out who the rock stars are (it won't be hard) and pay attention. They'll be the ones who work on something until they get it right, no matter how long it takes (grit). They ask good questions and are receptive to feedback (curiosity). They accept responsibility for their successes and failures with no whining (ownership).

Research has demonstrated that if you work hard to mimic their specific behaviors, you can become a rock star, too. Don't wait for someone to tell you exactly what needs to be done – there is no syllabus for life – just start doing it, and you'll be on your way.

— Kristen Hamilton, Koru