Advice for an ambitious, young grad


Dear Joan:
I am a 21 year-old senior at Penn State, looking to make a dent in the world through entrepreneurship, inspiration, and the dissemination of knowledge and wisdom. I'm actively seeking to learn from the experts about how to be successful in my future endeavors (i.e. consulting, entrepreneurship, public speaking, writing, etc.) and stumbled upon your website in the process. You clearly have a wealth of knowledge and experiences and I would greatly appreciate anything you would be willing to share with me.

Specifically, what is your greatest piece of wisdom or advice (career or personal) for an ambitious, young professional approaching graduation?
What an exciting—and challenging—question! 
The first piece of advice you are already demonstrating:
Seek advice from those you respect and can learn from.
This curiosity will cause people to open up to you and shorten your learning curve about the companies, the people and the politics of work. Unfortunately, many young grads charge into the work world thinking they already know it all—after all, they have those shining new diplomas! What the smart ones soon learn is that the real education starts after they leave school.
Take risks early in your career.
You don’t have much to lose when you are starting out; you probably don’t have a family to support; you can relocate; you can switch jobs—even career direction—without causing very much damage. Now is the time to explore and test your skills.
Make networking a lifelong practice.
Waiting until you need something from someone guarantees it will be too late. A networking mindset will cause you to seek out new acquaintances, learn about them and find out about their organizations—this will always put you in a position of knowing about opportunities before anyone else does (not to mention getting to know some wonderful people).
Make people feel smart and important. 
Draw people out and really be attentive to what they have to say. Be honest and open with your compliments and encouragement. Develop a reputation as a collaborator. Ironically, ambitious people sometimes think they have to show how smart and important they are, so they are dismissive toward everyone else; yet the secret to being regarded as smart and important yourself, is to treat everyone else like they are. (You indicated in the PS of your letter that you were offered a job in a prestigious consulting firm. Be careful to make your clients feel smart and important, too, so you stand out from other consultants who may come off as condescending or know-it-all experts.)
Run into the fire, not away from it.
Go where the problems are and pull people together to solve them. The single most visible way to earn your way up the ladder is to find and fix problems. If there is a task force, ask to be assigned to it; if there is an exciting new department forming, volunteer to take a lateral job to be a part of it. If your department has been pushing a nagging problem to the back burner, ask to start working on it. Adding value will pay off—in pay, promotions and future success. And since you are interested in becoming an entrepreneur, the secret to success is to search out problems and find a solution no one else has thought of.
Save your perfectionist streak for things that really matter.
Eighty percent is good enough when it comes to doing staff work; crossing every “T” on everything you do will just slow you down and make your colleagues and employees resent you. It will stunt your career in the long run. Instead, do “administrivia” well enough but save your real energy for getting results that matter. I’ve seen many careers come to a screeching halt because they can’t let go of every detail.
When you blow your own horn, recognize the orchestra.
Be quick to share credit with others. If you watch respected, successful leaders they always say things such as, “I couldn’t have done it without the skilled experts on my team…” In fact, one of the best ways to bring up one of your accomplishments, is to recognize the team who worked on it with you. It won’t sound like bragging and it won’t be lost on the listener that you were the leader who made it happen.
Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth.
It’s easy to convince yourself that all of your good intentions are clearly and correctly interpreted by others, and that your credibility and winning personality are admired by all. And all of those great ideas? Why, of course they will work! Without honest feedback to ground you, you can fall prey to your own opinion of yourself. Being aware of how you are perceived is critical; it helps you correct mistakes quickly, helps you make the right decisions and helps you navigate political minefields. Honest feedback from people you trust is like having a trusted group of scouts who will keep you grounded and on the right path.
Good luck and have fun on your career journey!

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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