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Top ten career tips

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Recently I was a guest at the School of Management Spring Networking Dinner. Along with the other faculty and staff present I was asked to stand up and offer a career tip, one piece of advice to the assembled undergraduates, of whom there were probably 75 or so.

I offered my comments but it got me thinking afterward. I was not really prepared to offer just one piece of advice, and I realized I had never really stopped to condense my thinking in response to this question. Next time, I said to myself, I'll be ready.  
 
So what follows here, after a bit of reflection, are my "Top Ten" career tips: 

Know thyself - There is much wisdom in this ancient Greek aphorism, often attributed to Socrates. A true knowledge of self is the necessary foundation upon which one's career lies. If you are not aware of what you are good at, what you like and don't like, your strengths and your weakeness, you can be pulled in any number of directions, which can lead to less than optimal work experiences. In the CEC you will hear us talk about VIPS - your Values, Interests, Personality, and Skills. Knowing these, knowing yourself, can act as a sure compass to help guide you in the right direction "out there" in the real world. 

Do what you love (with caveats) - Be honest with yourself about your talent level and whether the market will pay you for what you have to offer. Many of us may know what we love to do, but do we have the ability for it? How painful is it to watch those candidates on American Idol who love to sing and desperately want to be a star, but, sadly, have no singing talent? Even if you do have the ability, ask yourself if there is a market for it. Can you do this work and live in the manner you would like? If you are not sure, do more research, ask questions, and find out.
 
Experience is the best teacher - A phrase not written by me but oh so true. The more experience you have -- the more jobs, volunteer work, and different activities you engage in in and out of school -- the more you will come to know about yourself and the opportunities available to you out there. Listen to the feedback the world gives you and come to know what you like and where you can potentially thrive. A corollary here is that even a bad experience can have a positive outcome. If life deals you a lemon, make lemonade: "That internship was horrible! Now I know I don't want to do that for the rest of my life!"

You are the product - In my role at Simmons, representing the college to the world of employment, Simmons is my brand, the five schools and academic majors are my product lines, and each and every individual student is my product. In the world of work, this is how you need to see yourself, and if you are the product, then you need to learn how to market yourself. In your elevator pitch, resume, portfolio, personal presentation -- these are all components of your self-markering mix. And remember to sell your total package, not just your major and GPA but all your experiences outside the classroom as well, leadership, service, study abroad, travel, summer experiences - all provide transferable skills and demonstrate qualities that appeal to those who will want to bring you on board in the workplace.

We all have two jobs now - In the pre-industrial era eveyone had a defined job. You started out as an apprentice, worked your way up, and stuck at the same work your entire life. In the industrial era and later in the 20th century corporate era, large organizations emerged and were more likely to hire you on and manage your career across your entire working life, till retirement, a handshake, and the gold watch. Those days are pretty much gone. The workplace has changed. Today's workers can expect a lifetime of transitions in their work, much more the norm than before, not just between jobs but between careers as well. While it may seem daunting, it is also liberating -- now you are in charge, the master of your own fate. You can go where you want and do what you want to do. But only you can manage yourself. Only you can look out for #1. Thus, we all have two jobs now: the job you are currently in, and managing your career.  

Be open to opportunities - While you can have a career plan and a path in mind, unexpected things (aka, life) happen. You meet somebody on a train and they wind up offering you a job (true story). Be open to opportunities as they arise. Then, with your evolving knowledge of self and base of experience, evaluate each one. Is it a good fit for me? Think two steps ahead: where can I go after that? Does it lead where I want to go? Career theorist John Krumboltz calls these opportunities "happenstance", the unexpected twists and turns that can have a profound impact not just on your work but your life. Be ready for them.   

Go where you are celebrated, not tolerated - This remark was delivered by a keynote speaker at a large HR conference I attended a number of years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. Despite your best efforts and hard work, despite their having hired you in the first place, you may find that after some time in an organization you are seen only for what you are doing, not what you could do. You become part of the woodwork, taken for granted, not recognized any longer nor your true value appreciated. But you want to grow and prove that you can offer more, have ideas, have energy that is not being tapped. Then you have to do something about it, create or find a better siutation. Explore both internal and external opportunities. Helen Keller phrased it this way: "One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar".

Maintain your network - When you are first starting out in your career, networking may seem like a foreign and daunting concept - how do I do "networking" and do I even have a network? You will also think of networking as something that benefits you, a tool that can help lead to job and internship possibliites, or provide a connection in a new city if you decide to relocate. But as you spend more time in the workforce, you will realize that you become part of other people's networks, too, and that you can be just as valuable to them. The message here is that networking is a two-way street: yes, you can be helped, and you always want to be sure to show your appreciation and keep your network informed and up to date. But you can also reciprocate, be an aid to others, and then you are a member of a truly valuable network.  

Seek a higher purpose - I will echo the evening's keynote speaker, Mary Finlay, Professor of Practice in the SOM and former Partners Healthcare CIO. While there is a necessity to manage your own career and meet certain financial and other personal exigencies, if your work is solely for yourself you will burn out and become disillusioned very quickly. Simmons' core purpose of "Transformative learning that links passion with lifelong purpose" is not a hollow phrase. Working for a larger purpose, something that provides lasting benefits and is of value to others, provides a deeper and sustaining motivation. Being engaged in something larger than yourself can get you up in the morning and keep you going, not just for days and weeks but months and years. Taking an even broader view, the world faces many complex challenges in multiple arenas, some on a truly massive scale and of an unprecedented nature. We need all the dedicated talent we can get to face these challenges.    

It's a marathon, not a sprint - For most, the first several years out of college are a time of continued exploration and learning, albeit in the worplace versus the classroom. You will try on different occupational roles and see what fits (see "Know thyself" and "Experience is the best teacher"). Some of your peers may seem to have it all together (usually they don't) and some may actually have a clear and defined path early on, what I call the "lucky few." But most use the defining decade of the twenties to sort things out before eventually finding their path. You do not have to have everything figured out all at once. Be patient. Let things unfold, and learn as you go. As American poet Walt Whitman said: "All truths wait in all things / They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it."

Your job is not your life - While income and how you spend your working hours are clearly central, and Gallup studies show that career well-being is the most reliable predictor of overall well-being, don't freight your job with fulfilling every aspect of your life. Other dimensions of your life  -- personal, family, physical fitness, involvement in community, activities of interest (music, rock collecting, reading, travel, whatever) -- are also important and should not be neglected. Whitman again: "Of course I contradict myself - I contain multitudes." Embrace the multitudes and pay attention to those aspects of yourself too. Or, put another way, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" (or Jill a dull girl).

Sometimes you need help - Have you ever seen a boxing match? When the bell rings to end the round the boxer goes back to his corner, slumps onto his stool, and gets attended to by his trainer and manager. That's what a career coach can do for you. They are in your corner. They help you take a break, step back from the action, work out a strategy, and get refreshed before you head back into the ring. While a lawyer attends to your legal needs and a doctor to your medical needs, a career advisor can help with your career needs. While at Simmons and as an alum, you can make us of the career coaching expertise on staff in the CEC.     
 
Be mindful of retirement - The "R" word may mean little or nothing to you now, but at some point, way out there on the horizon, your everyday working life will come to an end. And as the current run of Prudential TV ads is reminding us, many of us will be living far longer than previous generations, into our 90's and beyond, so we better be prepared not to outlive our retirement income. Plan now, save now, and you will thank yourself later.  

My final word on this is that there is no final word. While the foregoing are deeply held beliefs I might add another one here or there over time. And OK, for those counting there are more than ten tips here, which is the point. A career is a complex, organic, growing and evolving thing, and you can't boil it down to just ten immutable pearls of wisdom. It is an ongoing challenge, but one that Simmons grads are both prepared for and up to.

So what was the one tip I gave at the Networking Dinner? "Eisenhart's Theorem": We all have two jobs now.