It’s that time of year when our future leaders are getting ready to graduate.

There are lots of lists and speeches by people much more famous and far more successful that little old me.

This list is something I have put together from my 20+ years in business. In those 20 years I’ve been a new employee, an individual contributor, a manager, as well as a business owner. You might call me an old employee, however in my mind I’m not necessarily an old employee. Rather I’d like to think of myself as an experienced individual or even a veteran entrepreneur.

of the main points for today’s graduate is the fact that there are no more jobs for life. I don’t think anyone in the Millennial Generation is surprised by this. It’s become clear that we need to be entrepreneurial from day one. The following are a few tips that I hope help you as you start, extend and grow your career. Take them for what they are worth and use them if you like them.

Top 10 tips for new grads

  1. Know Your Business
    • Learn the business. Know what you were hired to do better than anyone else.
    • Know the Whole Business (see Just Down the Hall – from point 9 here) – Find a friend in a different department and seek to understand how their role impacts the business. Not because you want to take over that role. Rather because you want to understand how the whole business functions. Obviously focus on the role you were hired for. But … in order to move up in the organization you’ll need to know how the business operates.
    • Think Ship, Shipmates, Self – Your new company needs to come first. Then your colleagues. Then you.
  2. Onboarding Strategy
    • 30-60-90 Day plan – Put together an action plan for what you expect to accomplish in the first 30, 60 and 90 days. It can be as detailed as necessary. It should also include areas where you will ask for help. Yes, you WILL need help and you WILL ask for it … politely.
    • Excel … In a nice way. No one likes a braggart and a know it all. As you succeed stay humble. Rarely does anyone do everything 100% solo. Recognize and when possible reward the people that have helped you onboard to the business.
    • Trust in the Current People and Process. This is not your companies first goat rodeo. They know how the business operates. They know what works and what doesn’t. They will likely have policies and procedures in place. Day One and Week One are not the times to push those boundaries. Unless you were hired to be a change agent … give yourself some time to learn the current processes. Later on as you become and expert in #1 (Know Your Business) then you can and should seek areas to optimize.
  3. Expect Challenges. Expect to Fail. It Happens
    • When challenges occur, when failure seems imminent. Use the SBO method.
    • Where SBO is the Step Back Optimism. The idea is to take a deep breath and take a step back … literally or figuratively … depending upon where you are in the process. Then look at everything that can go right. Instead of focusing on all the things that might go wrong. It’s simple and perhaps a bit fanciful, but the idea is to get you thinking about options.
    • Learn to say no politely.  For example, if your boss is asking you can say something like “I want to say yes, but what can we move around in my current workload to make it work?” If a colleague is asking for something you need to evaluate the request and if it doesn’t align with your plans then you will need to practice your skills in saying no … politely.
    • Learn to Ask for help politely. You will need help to succeed. Learn to ask for it when you need it. Learn to ask for it before you get too far down the path such that failure is imminent.
  4. Find a mentor (later … Be a mentor)
    • You may have been a mentor in Boy Scouts or other civic organizations. This is great experience for identifying and learning from a mentor. It will also help you later when you gain experience and become a mentor.
    • One of the three best things Microsoft has is that they have a great mentorship program.
    • Identify someone you think might be a good mentor. Then just ask them if they would be willing to be your mentor.
    • If they say yes then you can work out the ground rules and timing. Most people I’ve asked have said yes.
  5. Exit Strategy
    • During your interview you probably should NOT tell them you are working on your exit strategy.
    • However, you should absolutely have a plan for where you want to go next.
    • As I mentioned at the beginning … everyone is an entrepreneur today.
    • Even if you plan on being at the same company or in the same field for a very long time you still need to think ahead for what’s next.
  6. PUP – Pick up (the) Phone
    • This may seem simple and obvious, but it can save a lot of time, effort and headaches.
    • Instead of sending yet another text or email … just pick up the phone.
    • Call your colleagues, call your partners, call your customers.
    • Trust me … they will appreciate the effort.
  7. Read – Yes, Read More
    • You might have thought your reading days were over. They aren’t
    • Here’s something you may not have thought about … Read Stuff from OTHER industries.
    • I think you will find something interesting in collateral and content from other industries.
    • When you realize what it is … drop a note in the comments. The first few to comment might get another surprise from me.
  8. Join Toastmasters
  9. Give Back
    • You may not have money (or maybe you do), but you do have something to give.
    • Figure out what that is … And GIVE.
    • You will be surprised how much you learn by the simple act of giving.
  10. Above All … Be Nice
    • It’s not hard to put on a smile and think about the bigger picture. Sure, things will go wrong. Issues will arise. Those that can keep their composure will be able to grow and move past them.
    • Avoid and isolate mean people. There are enough cynics in the world. Don’t be one or become one.
    • One Last Tip … Pay It Forward. Take the time to do something nice for someone else every day.

There ya go. Ten Tips for the New Grad. I tried to provide some detail to help put these tips in the proper context.

I’m always happy to hear from you. So, please feel free to share what you have learned or how you have used these tips (or something like them) to grow your career. I look forward to hearing from you.

Oh … and don’t forget the sunscreen.

This is in reference to Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen” speech.


Jeff  is a veteran in the Enterprise Content Management industry. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. Jeff is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances at Winshuttle. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), K2, Captaris, Open Text, Kofax and Kodak. He speaks and blogs about ECM and the Intersection between Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing.