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6 Tips for Graduates (and anyone else) about Succeeding at Work

It’s that time of year when videos of famous people giving commence addresses start showing up in our Facebook and news feeds.

Most are full of inspirational platitudes about how these young people can manifest a greater future for us all. These are inspiring speeches, but do they really help these graduates navigate the journey ahead?

This got me thinking. If I could give some practical advice to graduates about how to survive and thrive in today’s world of work, what would it be?

There are so many lessons that I’ve personally learned over the years through my own experience and that of others. It’s hard to narrow down the list but there are a few that feel a bit more important than the rest.  Here they are.

Show, don’t tell.

Talk is cheap. If you want to impress your manager and coworkers, show them what you can do. Take on the tough assignments and prove that you are someone who can get things done and make things happen. You will be surrounded by people at work who can talk a good game, be the person who stands out because you actually deliver when the game is on the line. A proven track record will win over a good sales pitch every time.

Lift others up.

Work today is a team sport. Your success is intertwined with the success of those around you. Be the kind of teammate that makes everyone better. Encourage others. Celebrate their accomplishments. Offer to help. Have their back. As your team grows and improves, so will your performance and opportunities. This is what it means to be a leader in today’s workplace.

Network, network, network.

As I reflect back on my career, every single opportunity that moved my career forward was made possible by a relationship I had with someone. Finding out about a great job, getting a promotion, speaking at a conference…all made possible by someone who opened the door for me. Who you know and the relationships you have may be the most powerful tool available to you to accelerate your career. Make time to build and cultivate your network. This is so important that I co-wrote a book about how to do it called Social Gravity. You should read it now. It will pay off over and over in the future.

Trust your instincts. 

When you get into the workplace, there will be a lot of processes and practices that seem stupid and wasteful. That’s because they are. There will be people in management and leadership who seem incompetent. That’s because they are. You will be able to see the dysfunction because you have fresh eyes. Trust what you see. Don’t let someone convince you that this wastefulness is somehow good or necessary. You will feel compelled to lower your expectations. Don’t do it. That doesn’t mean you will be able to change these things right away. Be patient and keep notes. When the opportunity comes to call out the dysfunction, be ready to do so and have some ideas for how to make it better.

Invest in yourself early and often. 

Be greedy when it comes to experience and education, particularly early in your career when you have the greatest flexibility and fewer life responsibilities. Take advantage of every opportunity you can. If your company offers an overseas assignment, jump at it. If they will pay for your MBA, do it. Experience and education is a compounding asset that will exponentially increase in value over time. Think about it as an investment in your future life. What better investment could you make?

Study organizational politics.

Perhaps the most daunting obstacle you will face in your new career is what we often refer to as office politics. There will be unwritten rules about how things work that will sometimes conflict with the rules that are written down. There will be people who do things to maximize their power at the expense of others. It happens in every organization. The best way to think about politics at work is as the rules of the game. As a player in the game, you must study and understand these rules if you are to survive and thrive. Politics aren’t good or bad, it’s how you choose to play the game that matters. Some people manipulate the rules for self-interest, others for the greater good. Be a student of how things work. Learn how decisions are made and who really has the power. Then use that knowledge to make good things happen.

This list won’t guarantee success. But by keeping these six things top of mind in navigating your career, you’ll give yourself an advantage and likely create some great opportunities down the road.

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Jason Lauritsen