One of the things I love most about the advice-to-grads motif is that you learn a lot about the advice giver from the advice. When you force yourself to give short, smart advice, you end up focusing on the stuff that matters most to you. Sheryl Sandberg, for example, gives amazing graduation speeches, but she always touches on how more women can live the life she is living, and they should aspire to that. That’s what’s important to her. JK Rowling focuses on feeling okay if you fail. It makes sense: she has spoken of how she was on public assistance and suicidal before she was queen of all publishing.
My advice focuses on challenging your preconceived notions. I think this is what I do best, so, of course, I tell people to go out in the world and do this.
Who you take advice from is important. I hate people who are snobs about career advice. You can get great advice from people who are terrible at life. And you can get terrible advice from people with grand successes. The trick is to understand where the person is coming from when they give the advice .
So, I’m going to give my advice here. And what I’m hoping is that you guys will give snippets of advice to June grads as well – in the comments section. And as you give the advice, notice what the advice you give says about the person you are. To me that’s always more interesting than the advice itself.
My advice: The job market is not what you think it is. And that’s why finding a job is so difficult when you graduate. So here’s a list of seven things that you need to know to do well in the job market. You need to know a lot more, for sure. But these are probably seven things you don’t know, because most people who have been in the workforce for years still don’t know them.
1. Your resume is not your work history. It’s a marketing document. Tell people what they want to hear about you. Leave out the other stuff. That’s not lying—that’s selling. A great way to write a resume is to write a draft version of the resume you’d need to get the job you want and then work backwards to gather the experience to make that resume true enough to send out.
2. Your career is not a one-word answer to a common question. Your career is a story. When someone says, “What do you do?” you need a great answer with a story of how you got there to back it up. Do you know what makes any answer a great answer? The story you tell. People like stories. Read Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick to learn to tell good stories about yourself. The book won’t teach you overnight, but overnight you’ll believe me that telling a good story about your career is one of the most important skills you can develop. Because people hire people who have good stories.
3. Your title is not about the job you have, it’s about the job you’re getting. The duties of your job are independent of your title. You can be on a great project as assistant to the assistant of nothingness. And you can have the title VP of everything and be responsible for getting coffee for people. All day long. So the title you have at the current job doesn’t impact your job. What it does impact is what job you get next. Get a title that will make you sound a little more like a good fit for the job you really want. Often that will make up for experience you are lacking. And don’t get an inflated title because you’ll look like you took a demotion on your resume when you go to a company that doesn’t give inflated titles.
4. Job hopping is a tool for career development. No one is going to manage your skill building except you. And you learn fastest by going from job to job and keeping your learning curve high. The average workplace learning curve starts leveling off after the second year on the job. So you can imagine the career death that non-job hoppers experience. This is why you need to get in a positive job hopping groove—get a job, make a big contribution to their bottom line, feature that on your resume and move on to the next challenge.
5. Entrepreneurship is for building your resume. Your company can fail. It doesn’t matter. You can build your company in your parent’s basement. No one needs to know. What people will see is that you’re a self-starter, you are full of ideas, and you can execute on them. So what if they don’t work? You tried. The most important thing, though, is that if it’s your company you can assign yourself all the projects you need for resume building. Entrepreneurship helps build any type of career. Do you want to go from sales to marketing? Start a company, do all the marketing, and then put that on your resume. Done. You’re ready to move into marketing. Keep using entrepreneurship as a skill-building path and you’ll never be stuck in a career you don’t like.
6. The best job location is near friends and family. It used to be that new grads moved all over the country. There is no money for that today. It used to be that new grads flocked to New York City. But most of you should not move to NYC because the competition—for everything—creates constant, low-level dissatisfaction, so it’s worth it only if you have to be the best. (Here’s a test to see if you should be in NYC.) The biggest relocation mistakes people make are when they start thinking something matters more than living near friends and family. More misguided thinking on location: you need somewhere special to do your best work. You probably don’t. I work from crazy places – like my son’s favorite skateboard park. If you tell yourself you can do your best work anywhere then you remove a big barrier to becoming great. And anyway, the Sartorialist says that in the future, everything will be a coffee shop.
7. The economy does not affect you. Sure, it’s true, this is not a great time in the history of the US economy. But you know what? You are not a spreadsheet, you are a person. Your career is not governed by the GDP, it’s governed by your ability to target smart opportunities and keep yourself learning and engaged. It doesn’t matter if it’s a market that favors employers because you are going to offer up your skills in the best way possible, no matter what. And people who do this well are employable no matter what the economy is doing.