22 Tips for New Grads and Others Early-in-Career

July 23, 2015 - 19 Comments

As a seasoned professional (read: old guy with scars earned through experience), with a fancy title, working in a cool area, at an extraordinary company, I am asked for career advice by those in the early days of their business journey. Although I’m not really an expert, people figure I might have some insight to offer.

And it’s true, on a certain level. Over the course of decades, mountain climbI’ve done a lot, seen a lot, made plenty of mistakes, fallen into good luck, had several great bosses and a couple of lousy ones. I’ve weathered broad macro storms of economic downturns, flat-out recessions, sudden market transitions, and bursting bubbles.

I’ve also made it through micro disturbances like hostile acquisitions, too many rounds of layoffs and downsizing, and a few instances of company restructuring. I’ve observed and emulated some brilliant people, learned what not to do by watching others, worked with many great do-ers and leaders, led or worked within some impactful teams, and have toiled to make positive and lasting impacts on several great companies. Along the way, in the end, I have experienced a measure of success.

For those just starting your careers as new grads, recent MBA’s, or others in the early season of your professional life, I humbly offer the following collection of thoughts as I reflect back on 30+ years… some of which you might find relevant and valuable.

  • Find a mentor or two – however, choose wisely and be thoughtful where you “hitch your wagon”, preferably to several stars in various areas.
  • Have a mix of patience and impatience — cultivate the desire to go faster and do more, but also recognize that many things have to align in order to make a lasting impact and may take longer as a result.
  • Dig deeper for an understanding – there will be inevitable frustration quote from Michael Jordandue to the frequent disconnect between ‘how things are’ and how you’d like them to be; recognize that the people above and around you are not stupid,  they do things for a reason, understand better by digging deeper
  • Stand out from the crowd – give 10% more than is expected and note that it’s a lot of work to sustain that extra 10% over time. Build it into your own rhythm early, as you will then have a huge advantage in standing out from the crowd as special, committed, willing, and productive.
  • Change roles – move around within the company, horizontally as well as vertically and take a non-linear approach to your career path, especially early. It will provide you the opportunity to gain experience in many different areas as you meet many people in different departments.
  • Look for the “next big thing” — always look for innovative ways to improve projects, processes or what you are working on and help bring it to reality and especially keep an eye out for big shifts ahead.
  • Commit to lifelong learning — read, watch, listen, observe, learn from both the positive and negative, adopt both style and substance from what you see and learn.
  • Disagree and commit – if you don’t agree with an approach or solution, offer alternatives; but once the decision has been made, don’t undermine the work, support it with everything you’ve got.
  • Be nice to others – and learn to work with them. True teamwork and selflessness are rare and people want to work with people they enjoy. And you never know when you will run into these people again – you may need their support or recommendation.
  • Set an example – lead through your behavior; actions speak louder than words; be slow to commit but once you do, then over-deliver.
  • Be an early adopter – take risks and innovate, try new things, don’t cling to the past or old ways of working, push the envelope.
  • Connect and Network – with customers, partners, employees, colleagues, and thought leaders. Continue to grow your network, it will serve you for years and decades.
  • Be accessible – be present, visible, available, engaged. Make your presence known and your impact felt.
  • Be human – be friendly, empathetic and authentic. Expect to have successes and failures, ups and downs, and some spectacular public mistakes. Recognize the humanity in others and cut them a break when they inevitably mess up or disappoint.
  • Share the good work – celebrate the successes of others and you’ll be shared/ referenced by them in return. quote clay shirky 1
  • Be among the first to know – and to dive deeper to understand fully.
  • Build your own personal brand – stand for something.
  • Be influential – tweak and augment other people’s thinking, even by subtle means.
  • Be transparent – and share with others, however don’t have selfish ulterior motives.
  • Advocate an opinion – even if it proves to be wrong. Be in the mix rather than acting as a bystander or spectator.
  • Meet new people – get out of the comfort zone of a small, tight circle.
  • Be interesting – show some personality; quirky is OK (flaky is not), especially if you can deliver excellence with a special unique style all your own.

Bonus: Take More Risks and Have More Fun 

You’re going to spend a LOT of time and energy on your work and career in the years ahead. It’ll be part of what defines you (but it’s not everything that defines you), it’ll present you with opportunities and adventures, friends and connections, a source of pride and accomplishments and the ability to live a terrific life. It’ll also be a source of frustration, long hours, disappointments, surprises, and unforeseen twists and turns. There’s no way to plan it all out in advance, but that’s okay. Take risks, make big bets, try new things.

Approach your career as an adventure and as a journey to be enjoyed, and experience it to the fullest with bold curiosity and fearlessness, with confidence in yourself, and with the expectation that the right things will happen when and how they are meant to unfold.

I wish you a fantastic journey and great success ahead!


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  1. Brilliant Article thanks Mark

  2. Always good advice no matter where people are in their career.

  3. Thank you all for your interest, comments, and for sharing this in your social media channels and with people you know who might benefit. I’ve received a lot of great feedback from many different directions and channels, some of which is: you don’t have to be a recent grad or early-in-career to do these things; they are good reminders for a broad set of people at all stages of our careers. Please keep sharing, keep working on these 20+ ideas, and let me know if you notice anything different in your work habits, career trajectory, or in how people recognize, engage, and interact with you. Here’s to your success!

  4. Excellent Article… thanks for your advice!
    As a new Cisco employee it would be great to implement right away. 🙂

  5. Incredible advice! I love “Advocate an opinion” — so many of us are afraid to use our voices (especially when just starting out) for fearing of being wrong or seen as uneducated on a topic. Being a part of the conversation is one of the best ways I’ve found to learn and grow.

  6. Thank you for your experience

  7. I love this Mark. Simple. Straight forward. But then again, very insightful. These things, all, do truly enhance someone’s, anyone’s, opportunity for great things ahead in their future…my favorite is #BeNice. I would add #TrustYourGut. Cheers…

  8. Very good advice! Many thanks

  9. Thank you Mark, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece keep ’em comin!

  10. I love the quote, “There’s no way to plan it all out in advance, but that’s okay.”

    Sometimes hard to take that approach day to day, but ultimately the most important perspective when aiming to accomplish big goals.

  11. Great list Mark – thank you for sharing! As someone who has moved from an SE in Sales, to Sales Ops, to Product Marketing, to Social Media Marketing — I can never stress enough to others that the “Change Roles” is a vital piece of seeing the world from various standpoints and being able to really bring great experiences to each role you embrace.

    And of course, I’m a big advocate for #BeHuman. 🙂

  12. Hi Mark, this is great advice. I especially have to agree with “Changing roles”. I’ve been at Cisco now for 11 years and I started my career here in a more technical role as a web developer. Hungry to learn new parts of the business, I then moved on to a role in Corporate Communications and worked heavily with the PR team to develop new skills. I also happened to be in the right place at the right time when social media was just starting to become adopted by big companies. This led me to where I am today and have been for the last 7 years or so in social media marketing, where I combine my love for both technology and people. I’d also like to add to what Laura said above around the importance of communication. With many new millenials now entering the workforce it is becoming increasingly important to understand the best ways in which to work with one another. We all come from different generations and understanding the best ways to connect and work successfully together is critical.

  13. Thanks for sharing Mark. Good tips that we tend to forget as we get bogged down with day to day work.

  14. Mark, thanks for sharing your insights! I’m going to steal..ahem…borrow these for some of my mentoring sessions. I’d also add the importance of developing good communication skills. NEVER stop working on them. Communication skills will aid you in any business setting and will greatly influence how others perceive you.

  15. Great insight and thank you for sharing your experience. Many useful tips that I can definitely apply to my journey.

  16. Great insight and perfect timing to share. These tips equally apply to us all, wherever we are in our careers, we could all use some fine tuning.

  17. The social media nut would add number 23 – be social. 🙂 Mark, these are great tips. Especially the one about having fun and finding a mentor. 🙂 Love the post!

  18. Thank you for the gift of your experience, Mark! I’m probably reaching the end of my early career, and am I glad I experimented with horizontal role changes. At my core, I’m a Marketer. But Marketing continues to evolve, and so must I.

  19. A mentor once told me to “give your company the gift of your personality.” So true. It’s the mix of all our unique personalities that contributes to the rich texture of a successful workplace.