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Career Advice for My 21 Year-Old Self.


A few weeks back Scott Stratton penned a LinkedIn post entitled “New Grad Advice I Wish I Was Given”.  It was an insightful piece that was dead on and something worthy of sharing with any recent grad you know – although I must admit I thought he was way off-base on the sushi advice.

It got me thinking about the advice I would have given myself as a newly minted graduate.  In a literal stream of consciousness I jotted down, quite haphazardly, things that came to mind in a list that came together in just a few minutes.  No rhyme, no reason.

It also made me wonder why University don’t offer this as a capstone course for all graduating seniors.  As much as you learn in college, you really learn nothing on how it applies to the “real world”.

So, consider this a companion piece to Scott’s sage advice.

New Grad Advice I wish I was Given

1. Your performance review will  have little bearing on your raise, bonus, promotability – those things are determined by a formula in HR.  Your effort, however, will have an enormous bearing on your long term career.  Keep grinding.

2. Your degree is like a new car – it loses half its value after you leave campus.  The last time your degree will mean anything is after you get your first job.  After that nobody cares where you went or what your GPA was. They want to know what you’ve done.

3. The most important part of your education are the relationships you formed with your classmates and faculty. Keep nurturing those relationships.

4. A Harvard degree will start your career on second base.  Most colleges will start you at first.  No degree will hit you a home run. That’s your responsibility.

5. Put your phone/laptop away during meetings. If other things are more important than that meeting then you shouldn’t be in that meeting.

6. If two people in a meeting agree on everything, one of them shouldn’t be there.

7. Don’t be the last one in the office or the first to leave. Don’t be the first one in the office AND the last to leave.

8. You’re smarter than you think, speak up if you have something to contribute.

9. The boss that hired you will like you more than anyone else will. Make him/her glad he/she brought you on board.

10. Make sure that every piece of work you do includes something extra that wasn’t asked for.

11. Calibri, Times New Roman, Courier. Period. Nothing destroys a reputation more quickly than a serious document written in comic sans….unless you’re a bad comic, or a face painter, or making fun of bad comics or face painters.

12. A pie chart is worthless.  A well thought out analysis and recommendation on what the pie chart is telling you is invaluable.

13. A word cloud is just plain worthless.

14. Don’t be the guy that gets sloppy drunk at corporate social events. It’s how you will always be remembered.

15. Your LinkedIn Profile (or resume) should always be up to date.  You don’t know when that next opportunity will be looking for you.  If you haven’t got any updates to make to your resume in a year then you’re not trying hard enough.

16.  Avoid the red-eye flight at all costs.

17. Your place on the totem pole is less about talent and more built on relationships, effort, luck, timing, and asking for the job you think you’re not qualified to do.

18. If you are in the same position for 3 years, you need to find a new job.  You are either not good at that job or at a place that doesn’t reward good work.  Either way, get out*

19. Your boss only remembers what you did for them yesterday, so be sure to remind them of your past experience and accomplishments.

20. When you leave work for the day,  be done with work.  24/7 availability to the company is a fool’s game.

21. Keep a running tally of your achievements as you go. Trust me, you’ll forget a lot at the end of the year during your review.

22. Be your boss’ biggest ally, (I didn’t say biggest suck-up). Support them publicly, critique them privately.

23. When you get to be boss, be your team’s biggest ally. Support them publicly, critique them privately.

24. Once in your life, start your own business.

25.  Don’t be an asshole.

26. You’ll learn more at a start-up in 6 months than you’ll learn at a Fortune 500 in 10 years.

27. A car is a necessary evil and no one is impressed as you think they are with your BMW.

28. The receptionist is the most important person at the company.

29. You’re young, you don’t have a pot to piss in. You have a small window of time to take some risks and it closes quickly.

30. Save 10% of everything you earn in a retirement fund.

31. Travel light.

32. Very few people ever find their dream job.  Find a job that doesn’t suck, that will challenge, inspire, and reward you.

33. Every once in a while look around your work space and ask “Could I gather all my things and be out in 30 minutes.” You just might have to do that one day.

34. Save examples of your best work and important files on a thumb drive.

35. Don’t wear shorts to the office. Ever.

36. Don’t collect things. Collect memories.

37. Wine, liquor, beer.  Pick one.

38. Don’t let your email determine your schedule.  It’s a time sucking tool of generally meaningless work and possibly the worst tool business has ever created.

39. ALWAYS talk with someone who approaches you about a new opportunity. You can always decline it and you never know where it will lead.

40. Become comfortable presenting to an audience. Its an essential skill.

41. Layoffs suck.  Be prepared for when its your turn and empathetic to others when it theirs.

42. Stay in touch with former coworkers, associates, customers, colleagues. It’s easy to send birthday greetings, congratulations, and have get togethers once in a while.

43. Give, give, give, give, give, give, take.

44. Thanking someone for their work or help is great. Sending that thanks to their boss is greater.

45. Every 3 months, send a note to someone’s boss telling them how valuable that person has been in making your job easier. Don’t tell them you did it.

46. Research the company and boss that just gave you that nice job offer.  No job is worth it if you’re working in a hell-hole or for a jackass.

47. Ask “why” a lot.  “Because it how we’ve always done it” is always the wrong answer.

48. Work happens in the office between 9-5. Careers happen outside the office 24-7.

49.  Learn to say “No”.

50. Learn how to dress and always dress a smidge better than what your expected to wear.

51. Be on time for meetings.  5 minutes early is on-time.

52. Date a co-worker at your own peril.

53. Don’t just share content on social media. Create it.

54. Buy a pair of “money shoes” that only touch carpet and are only worn when it matters. I’m partial to Johnston & Murphy’s Hyde Park II Cap-Toe.

55. Do your work with a pencil.

56.  A handwritten note is worth a thousand emails.

57. Don’t take somebody else’s stuff from the company fridge.

58. When traveling on company business:

  • Don’t max out on the per diem just because you have one.
  • Don’t scrimp on the per diem either.  Eating at McDonald’s and staying at the $79 Howard Johnson’s across from Newark Airport doesn’t make you a hero.
  • If someone else is paying the tab, don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu.
  • Don’t post pics of all the fun you are having on your company trip.  You have co-workers back at the office working their assess off that don’t have the privilege that you do.
  • Be nice to security people, gate people, airline employees, hotel employees, bag check people, taxi people….you’re no better than any of them, and they can do a lot of nice things for you.  They can also do a lot of horrible things to you.

59. We all know what you’re saying on social media.

60.  Be visible. Join the softball team. Volunteer for task forces. Don’t eat lunch at your desk everyday.

61. Always follow-up.

62. Keep your word.

63. Don’t let work consume you…find a hobby. Bonus points if that hobby can provide a second income.

64. Every 6 months stop and assess where you are at. Are you happy? Are you reaching your goals?  If not stop what you are doing and readjust your plan or look for a new opportunity.

65. Have a plan. A written plan. With goals and milestones. That you can share. You will never get where you want to go without a roadmap.

66.  Every office has a bully. Don’t let them intimidate you.

67. Look for public speaking opportunities. That can be small meetings at work or big conferences. Become the expert at what you do and share your expertise with others.

68. Don’t take credit for someone else’s work.  Don’t let someone else take credit for your work.

69. Assume that anything you say privately will be communicated publicly.

70. It’s ok not to “hustle” all the time

71. Fantasy Football is a must.

72. Your belt must match your shoes.

73. Find a good cologne. Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Pour Homme has always worked for me.  Ditch the Polo and Drakkar Noir or anything sold in the same aisle as Axe Body Wash.

74. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, order spaghetti at an important business meal.

75. Send your Mom your business card.

76. Find a reliable source of current events and stay informed.  Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC are not reliable sources. Go for NPR, or the BBC.

77. Remember that half your co-workers voted for the other guy.

78. Vacations are a time to disconnect from work, not a different place to do work.  Put down the email, spreadsheets, office updates and enjoy the little time you’ve been given.  You owe yourself that.  The office will be fine without you. Seriously.

79. Four things to never discuss in the office: sex, politics, religion, and the designated hitter rule. You  will never change anybody’s opinion on these things.

80. Using a sick day for a “mental health” day is totally acceptable.

81. Give the bartender a big tip on your first round of drinks. You won’t wait for any round of drinks the rest of the night.

82. Make exercise a priority.

83. Learn how to cook one good meal.

84. Always get it in writing.


*  Unless you’re the lead singer of The Rolling Stones or Aerosmith, or the Founder of the company.

Rutgers, Mini-MBA, and the Death of the Real College Degree

I ran across this Certification Program…err….I mean “Mini-MBA” program offered by Rutgers and for some reason that escapes me it rubbed me the wrong way…oh wait I know why….because its bullshit.Motar Board  I don’t want to come off as some intellectual elitist or anything, but as someone who completed an MBA program (I guess Rutgers would call that a “Maxi-MBA”), I am just a tad put off at the “flavoring” they have added to the degree.

For anyone who has toiled through Grad School, they know the dedication, sacrifice, and grind that’s required to complete the program.  Especially for those coming to an MBA program from a non-business background, the rigors of tackling subjects like Finance, Accounting, and Marketing are not for the unmotivated.  My recollections bring back memories of grueling coursework, endless reading, arduous group work, all-night study sessions, nerve-racking presentations, and a course-ending thesis (Corporate Crisis Communication).

As someone who jumped off the 9-5 treadmill and re-entered College after 6 years of ‘real-life’ experience, the challenge was daunting but at the same time enormously gratifying and rewarding.  It made me realize just how much I didn’t learn as an undergrad.  In the end, I got my sheepskin and have ever since been proud of the blood, sweat, and tears that piece of paper represents.  I am an MBA dammit and have accomplished something only a small fraction of my peers could claim.  That ‘MBA’ means something.

So let’s get back to Rutgers.  They are now peddling a variety of these “Mini-MBAs” in subjects like “Business Essentials”, “Going Digital –  The New Rules of PR”, and “Pay Per Click (PPC)”.  Are you fucking kidding me?  Your going to subtly equate a session in “Conversion Optimization” with an MBA???

Note to Rutgers, what you have here are “Training Sessions” or “Certifications”, you know, the kind ofCongratulations! You're an Idiot things you do that get you a photocopied “Certificate of Achievement” that no one gives a shit about.  Hell, its not really of any more value than any of the 400 free webinars you can ingest daily if you aren’t busy actually doing something.   And its certainly nowhere near the education you get actually applying knowledge in real life as opposed to learning about how people apply things in real life.

As I said, I don’t know why this tweaked me so much… it’s just semantics right?  After all, I am a huge proponent of life-long learning as a means of professional survival.  But I guess where I start to seethe with rage is knowing how this will play out with some (I said ‘some’) of their students.  All of a sudden there will be a population of people professing their “mumblemumbleminimumble MBA” degree.  Trust me, I have seen enough fabricated resumes to know that the practice of outright fictional representation of one’s experience and achievements would make J.K. Rowling proud.  Throwing a faux MBA to these professional career hucksters  is almost begging them to “mistakenly” drop the “mini” part of their educational acumen.

At minimum, Rutgers is marginalizing what an MBA is and the work necessary to achieve it.  It’s academic malpractice and they should be embarrased to having added MBAs to the list of products like “Vitamin Enriched” Pop Tarts, “Low-Fat” Ice Cream, and “Anti-Aging” Wrinkle Cream that have been misrepresented by overzealous marketing people .

I’m sure I am blowing this way out of proportion, but go get yourself a “real” degree and tell me if it doesn’t feel cheapened by Rutgers “Mini-MBAers” Class of October 2011.

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