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Advice for College Graduates: Own Your Career

It is graduation time and you are being bombarded with questions and concerns about your future. Your situation is the perfect storm for advice givers – but there is one key to your career management approach that will help you today and 20 years from now: Own your career.


Owning your career means that you accept responsibility for how you plan and follow through on achieving the best work for yourself. So far, you’ve owned your career by completing a higher education program that prepares you for the world of work. You’ve made a great start and now the game is changing. Your ability to adapt to the world of work and achieve the best for yourself is up to you; nobody can make your career happen but you. Here are a few rules of the new game you’re in:

Attitude is still everything. Remember that feeling you had when you were a senior in high school, only to land in a few short months at the bottom of the ladder in your first year of college? You’re there again, and you’re in a perfect position to watch and learn. Think you should be running the company instead of sitting in a cube, managing paperwork? Trust me when I tell you that you don’t know what you don’t know. Focus on learning everything you can.

Have a plan and work it. Ask yourself where you want to be in 3 to 5 years. Find somebody who is doing what you want to be doing and talk to them about how they got there. You will spend a major part of your life in the world of work. So make it count for you.

Your performance is your responsibility. Don’t understand something? Ask. If you make a mistake, own up. If somebody helps you out, share the credit. Finger pointing and blaming others will hurt you; don’t do it.

Visibility is a double-edged sword. Don’t be eager to make a name for yourself at this stage of your career. The process of learning means mistakes happen – everybody stumbles, but if you’ve spent your time trying to get in the limelight, those inevitable stumbles take on the specter of a corporate YouTube event.

Your compensation is only a part of the picture of your current career position. At this point in the process, the experience you get carries more weight than the numbers on your paycheck. Yes, you may have school loans that rival the national debt, but be smart. Don’t pass on the right opportunity because of comp early in your career.

As you launch into your professional career, you’ll find out pretty quickly that it’s called work for a reason. Not all tasks are fun, challenging, adventurous life-altering events. But each task plays a role in a larger picture that requires your efforts to complete. Do what you are asked to do with the right attitude and study the larger picture for opportunities that map to your career plans. In the process, you will find your own career path opening up for you. Good luck!

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