At the end of March, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Syracuse University to attend the 2017 Career Madness Event at the Whitman School. Career Madness was a day-long event with underclassmen in their early stages of career planning (freshman and sophomores). The event provides them an opportunity to learn about a variety of careers and gain knowledge.
The event gathers corporate partners from across the country to share their experiences in marketing, finance, accounting, supply chain, retail management, entrepreneurship, and management. I was asked to speak about a career path in market research as part of the marketing panel with 3 other speakers. The panel consisted of other marketing professionals in Central New York including Terakeet, St. Joseph's Health, and Cowley Associates.
Career Madness was held on Friday, March 31 at Syracuse University.
Beyond just market research, we were also asked several questions about career advice, interviewing skills, and finding a job out of school. As an 18-year-old freshman at my undergraduate school in Vermont, life beyond school was hard to picture at the time. How would I find my first job? Would I like it? What would it be like? Would I actually use or be able to apply anything I learned? As I gear up the DeLorean and Flux Capacitor to talk to my 19-year-old self, here are my 9 points of advice, many of which I talked about with SU students.
Dear Future, You're Welcome.
Lesson 1: All Jobs Involve Sales
Shocked? Regardless of whether you work in marketing, market research, finance, sales or any other related field you'll be selling everyday. It may not be selling an actual product to an actual customer but you'll be selling yourself and selling your work. Immediately from Day 1 you'll begin building your own personal brand. The best way to sell yourself? Be recommended by others. In research nerd speak, make your own personal net-promoter score (NPS) skyrocket.
Not sure what I mean by NPS? We're here for you.
Lesson 2: A Good Manager is More Important Than a Good Company
This is a point I've driven home with my employees and colleagues over the years. This is especially true when you start your first job. A lot of students want a big name brand or a big name company to work for immediately out of school. But I would argue finding a good boss who helps you grow, teaches you new things, challenges you, and acts as a mentor is more important than the company itself. Some find this out the hard way while others don't realize the value of leadership and management until later in their career.
"People don't quit companies, they quit bosses."
This is true in many of the situations where employees exit a company. Not all but some. As you interview, ask about management style, approach, and opportunities for growth. Interview your manager a bit yourself to see if you mesh well. Questions are always good during an interview anyway. You might as well ask some that will help you make a decision. You want to know if the manager and the company is as much of a fit for you as you are a fit for them.
Lesson 3: Find Small Victories, Be Patient
Out of college, I was prepared to set the world on fire. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that. Most companies (especially larger ones) will start you out with kid gloves. They'll review every last piece of information you put together and in many cases revamp your work without you knowing why. The best managers and teams will walk you through revisions and spend time training you. However, you may grow frustrated and you many quickly realize expectations did not equal reality.
Be patient. Keep listening. Take constructive criticism and improve. Find little ways to make an impact such as a new formula in Excel, a Google Chrome extension that saves your manager time, or a suggestion on improving marketing materials. Over time, as your brand grows, your responsibilities will too. Without a doubt, it will take time. Career success is not built through immediate gratification. Career success is built on continual mini-wins that take months and years to accumulate.
Lesson 4: Put in Time
To that point, be willing to put in extra time in the early going. Arrive early, stay late. Set an example and maximize your time to learn. You may be so busy with day-to-day work from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM at your job, the only time you have to train or read up on new trends is before or after hours. In many cases, you have to create this time and be motivate to take on more.
As you look for ways to differentiate yourself from your peers remember, time is an equal and nonredeemable currency in business. If you put the time in, you'll reap the rewards because in many cases other will not be as willing. We all get 365 days, 7 days a week, and 24 hours a day. If you're willing to put in the time, it will pay off in the short-run and long-run.
Lesson 5: Help Others
One of my go-to quotes is from Zig Ziglar which says:
"If you want to achieve your goals, help others achieve their goals"
By the way, high fives are a random occurrence in business, however they seem to be extremely popular in stock photos.
The quote on helping others always sat well with me as a market researcher because it is what Drive Research does on a daily basis. Our clients come to our market research company in Syracuse and seek answers to critical questions. We provide them with data and answers. But it's more than that. We provide our clients with peace of mind, knowledge, and power knowing they have evidence and facts to back up their decisions.
Always be willing to lend a hand and help colleagues when they need it. There is no task that is too small or beneath you when it comes to helping others. Some of the leaders I respected the most were the ones who were willing to jump in on coding open-ends, assist with a mailing, or test a survey.
Lesson 6: Take Ownership
Take ownership in each and every task you work on. A mindset that has worked for me is to expect every document you review to have at least 1 error and it's your job to find it. Don't stop until you do. As you build your brand and take more of a leadership role you'll understand:
"Leaders take all of the blame when something goes wrong yet pass all of the glory and accolades when something goes well."
Lesson 7: Focus on Professional Development, the Money Will Follow
One key point of advice for recent graduates is try to find a role early in your career that builds you, not your savings account. Money and benefits are obviously an important criteria in job selection but it will matter more as you grow older, it's not critical from the onset. As long as you can pay the bills, having some spending money and enjoy life a bit don't make your first job all about finding the best offer. If you are good at what you do, you'll earn promotions or you'll find other companies down the road willing to offer you more.
Your first job is your toughest to get because you have no experience outside of likely internships. Considering so many people in the workforce switch companies often, your first job is highly unlikely to be your last. So when the next opportunity comes along are you better off having 1) a jam-packed resume from a company that might have paid you less but you learned a lot and had your hand in many pots versus 2) a resume where you had a single role with limited responsibilities but you were paid more. Which candidate is more attractive to the employer as they look for their 2nd job?
Lesson 8: You Don't Have to Know Everything, Say "Yes", Figure it Out Later
One of the biggest mindset changes I had to adapt to out of college was "it is okay if you're not great at everything". Think about it, in school you take a number of courses on a variety of topics and you are expected to test well. To be successful and at the top of your class you have to be good at everything and have no weaknesses or course areas.
It's different in business. In a lot of cases, you are expected to perform well in your role and rely on other teams and departments to perform well in their roles. Together you all excel as a company. You provide strengths in some areas while others fill in your weaknesses. Look for ways to compliment your team and department.
Say "yes" a lot. Not sure how to do it? Say "yes" and figure it out. It will challenge you and force you to learn new things by stepping out of your comfort zone.
Lesson 9: Build Relationships Everyday
Perhaps the best advice I can give is to build your professional network, starting while you are in school. Join LinkedIn and connect with classmates. You never know down the road whether they will be working at a company you want to apply at, work at a company you want to sell to, or work at a company than can add expertise and value to the place you work.
Build a network and focus on building quality relationships, in your own way. Whether it is networking events or 1-on-1 coffees, build a base of connections you can keep down the road. LinkedIn is a great way to stay involved and keep the pulse. As a colleague of mine has always said over the years "social media is like word-of-mouth on steroids", and I believe it. Thanks JF. Utilize it as much as possible to build your network and your brand.
George Kuhn is the Owner & President of Drive Research, a market research company in Upstate New York. After graduating from Castleton University in 2004, he earned his MBA from Clarkson University in 2005. He's resided in Central New York since 2005.