11 Pieces of Advice You’ll Be Glad You Shared
If your child is about to graduate college and officially enter the real world, you may be worried about his or her readiness. Here, parent and author
You’ve fretted about your child’s future from kindergarten on. You’ve zoom-focused on homework and grades, worried that he wouldn’t have the study skills and discipline to make it once he got out from under your thumb, and (of course!) spent sleepless nights worrying he wasn’t making the most of his college education. Now that he’s finally ready to graduate, the last thing you want is for your child to stall at the real-world starting line after all the hard work he—and you!—have put in.
You know that the economy is scarier than ever and jobs are hard to come by—and you also know that a lot has changed since you sent out your first résumé. So what eleventh-hour advice can you give your child to ensure that he’ll make it as an adult (and not end up living in your basement forever)? Ben Carpenter has some ideas.
“I know from experience how nerve-wracking it can be to watch a child leave the nest, especially when there’s so much about the real world he or she has yet to learn,” comments Carpenter, author of the new book The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life. “I’ll never forget the panic I felt when I realized that while my daughter Avery had received a top-notch academic education, she had no clue how the working world, well, worked.”
After a year-long job search, Carpenter shares, Avery finally received a promising job offer in her field of choice. Then she sent him an email with the subject line, “Is this okay to send?” Until her horrified dad stopped her, Avery was about to ask her new boss for a later start date so she’d have more time to “tie up loose ends” (i.e., move out of her parents’ home and into her own apartment). Yikes, right?
“Fortunately, I was able to redirect Avery before she inadvertently did any damage,” Carpenter comments. “But this instance really underscored to me how important it is that we parents actively guide our graduates through this uncertain time.”
That’s precisely the point of The Bigs. Using a combination of detailed, colorful anecdotes and tactical advice, Carpenter lays out a blueprint that employees of any age and level of experience (not just recent grads) can use to get—and do—a great job. Having done it all, from opening his own bar to working his way through the Wall Street ranks to becoming the CEO of a major international financial services company, Carpenter is the perfect coach.
Here, he shares advice to pass on to your graduate before diplomas are handed out:
Do what you’re good at, not what you love. Much of the career advice that’s doled out these days encourages young people to “follow their dreams” and “feed their passion.” Sure, you want your child to enjoy his career…but you also want him to become and remain solvent instead of holding out for the “perfect” job that might never materialize.
“That’s why you should underscore to your child that choosing a career he can do well, rather than one that seems fun and exciting, might be his best bet,” Carpenter states. “Be sure to point out that this strategy isn’t as unappealing as it might sound, because the satisfaction you get from doing your job well will far outweigh how entertaining it is. From personal experience, as well as from observing family, friends, and coworkers, I can state that most professionals are happiest doing what they are good at, while pursuing other passions—that their careers give them the means to finance—on the side.”
Try out different fields when you’re young. For most people, it generally takes at least a few tries to find the best field, company, and/or position from which to build a career. Just think about the number of times you’ve changed jobs over the years. If your experience was anything like Carpenter’s, you’ll probably agree that your rookie years—when you’re young and before you have children—are the ideal time to aggressively seek out the best match for your personality and talents.
“All of my major career moves occurred before my wife and I had children,” shares Carpenter. “They were relatively easy, because I didn’t have to worry about uprooting my entire family, and financial concerns weren’t as pressing. I compare this to my friend Blue, who really struggled with the decision to pursue a promising opportunity because he was concerned about caring for his children. Blue’s decision would have been much easier if he’d found the right company earlier.
“Of course, when you’re discussing this with your child, be sure to include the caveat that no one should leave a paying job—even if they’re unhappy with it—before they have another one lined up,” he adds.
Always ask yourself, What’s my edge? In other words, what makes you unique and different? Why should other people pay attention to you? What do you have to offer? What gives you an edge over the competition?
“Of course you think your child is talented and special, and it’s likely true,” Carpenter says. “Now, she just needs to figure out what makes her stand out from her peers and apply that distinction to a multitude of professional scenarios. If she’s starting a business, her edge can help her to define her product or service’s niche. If she’s going after a promotion, it can help differentiate her from her coworkers. In all situations, it will help her define how she can become her personal best.”
Think of your boss and your company before yourself. This principle was the driving force behind Carpenter’s insistence that his daughter not ask her new boss for a later start date, and it extends well beyond the first day of work. Make sure your graduate understands that when you’re a rookie in the big leagues, you have to prove that you’re going to be an asset to the team, not a drain on its resources or a liability for the coach. Often, that means putting your boss’s wants and needs ahead of your own.
Carpenter’s advice is that rookie employees need to show up before the boss…leave after she does…schedule personal appointments after business hours…work six months before taking vacation days…respond to phone calls and emails ASAP (even at night, on the weekends, or during vacations).
“I get that many of these things don’t sound like a young person’s idea of fun,” Carpenter says. “Your child might even think some of them are ‘unfair.’ But remember—it’s his job to make his boss’s life easier, not the other way around. Everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up. When your child shows that he’s willing to sacrifice his own interests for the good of the team, he’ll have gotten a huge head start on being named Rookie of the Year.”
Be creative and bold. To the dismay of many graduates and their parents, the days of being handed a job just because you have a diploma are long gone. There are millions of job seekers with the same qualifications as your child, so if you want her to receive one of a limited number of opportunities, she’ll need to stand out.
“Instead of sending out a résumé that will probably get lost in HR Purgatory, a creative and bold candidate might stand outside Company XYZ’s offices with a cardboard sign that reads, ‘Please let me tell you why I’m the person you want to fill the junior systems analyst position you posted on Monster.com,’” Carpenter suggests. “Or your child might take a page from a friend of mine’s book: After identifying her dream job, she walked right into the ‘big boss’s’ office, handed him her résumé, and told him she’d call him later that afternoon.
“My point is, the tougher the situation, the less your child has to lose—so the more radical her actions should be,” he clarifies. “The worst that can happen is that your child doesn’t get the job.”
Comfort and success rarely go hand in hand. In his book, Carpenter writes about liking and respecting his first real boss, “The Professor” (so named for his resemblance to the Professor on Gilligan’s Island), tremendously. However, the more he learned while at the job, the more determined Carpenter became to move on. While The Professor was a great teacher and salesman, he wasn’t fully engaged in his career. And none of his other colleagues seemed very “amped up” about their jobs, either.
The tipping point came when Carpenter was reprimanded because of entertainment expenses, not because he was spending too much but because he was spending too little. The Professor was concerned their department would have its entertainment budget cut if Carpenter didn’t “shape up” quickly. That’s when Carpenter realized that along with most other people in the department, The Professor’s number-one goal was to milk his career, not maximize it.
“I realized that if I stayed in this position, I might be comfortable, but I’d always be stuck in a professional backwater,” Carpenter recalls. “I made the difficult choice to leave this cushy environment for a higher-stakes opportunity. At some point, your child might also have to decide which is more important: sticking with the familiarity of the status quo or taking a chance on reaching the next rung of the ladder. Remind him that opportunity won’t find him within his comfort zone.”
Stay in the driver’s seat of your career. After making the decision to leave the safety of The Professor’s nest, Carpenter was told by his employer’s HR department that sure, he could transfer to a new department—but first, he’d have to stick with his current job for three more years! Carpenter’s response? “I will give you two months to help me get transferred; then I am going to start interviewing elsewhere.”
“A few weeks later, I was taking the subway to my new position in the department I’d asked to be transferred to,” Carpenter reports. “I was glad that my unorthodox tactic paid off, but I was fully prepared for it not to—I really would have been interviewing elsewhere two months later! Remember, life is short, and the same opportunities rarely come twice. Instruct your child not to simply ‘go along for the ride,’ especially when her goals and potential for success are at stake. Encourage her to take an active hand in charting her course forward.”
Don’t agree to anything you don’t fully understand. Once your graduate gets her foot in the door, she’ll likely want to impress her colleagues and higher-ups at every turn. And in an attempt to avoid looking like she doesn’t know what she’s doing, she may be tempted to feign understanding and nod her head, even though she really has no clue what’s going on. Caution her against this strategy!
“Early in my career, a client bullied me into saying ‘yes’ to a request I didn’t understand—and it cost my employer $25,000,” recalls Carpenter. “While covering up her ignorance might not come with such a steep price tag for your child, it’s still something she should avoid at all costs. Remind her that her integrity, credibility, and reputation—and possibly her job!—are all at stake. It’s always better to swallow your pride and say, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I need you to explain.’ Oh—and that’s just as applicable in your child’s personal dealings as it is in her career.”
When you’re upset, choose to look forward, not back. You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react and move forward. The sooner your child learns this lesson, the more resilient he’ll be.
“You know what it’s like to be handed an undesirable task at work, be blamed for your boss’s mistake, or be interrupted by an overzealous colleague during a client meeting for the thousandth time,” Carpenter says. “You also know that you can choose to focus on your anger and irritation for hours, or even days. But that doesn’t do you a bit of good. Instead, in these situations, advise your child to channel his thoughts and efforts toward playing the hand he’s been dealt in a way that will benefit him the most.”
Learn to appreciate diverse work styles. In life and in work, we all tend to gravitate toward others who think like us and who see the world through a similar lens. But if your child doesn’t push herself past the familiar, she’ll be severely limiting herself.
“Yes, it can be difficult, uncomfortable, and downright frustrating to work with people who take a different approach from you,” acknowledges Carpenter. “For example, maybe you’re a Type A personality who is totally frustrated by your coworker’s seat-of-her-pants approach to projects. Remember, though, by shutting her out, you’ll also deprive yourself of her creative solutions and outside-the-box insights.
“No matter what the situation is, encourage your child to always try to seek out and utilize her team’s talents, even if she doesn’t understand their methods,” he adds. “You can never be sure you have the best answer until you’ve heard all viewpoints.”
Know when to look after your own interests. In The Bigs, Carpenter shares how his boss’s boss, Mack, reacted when Carpenter announced his intention to resign his position and move to another company: “After gliding confidently around the ring a few times, he settled on a plan of attack and started swinging—not wildly, but with deliberate and measured blows. A right jab, ‘you’re making a huge mistake’…a left jab, ‘that firm is too small’…setting me up for a right uppercut, ‘you will regret this.’ For 10 minutes Mack worked me over the best he could.”
“If I’d been a newbie, I might have believed that Mack really did have my best interests in mind,” Carpenter states. “Fortunately, I was six years into my career and had already changed jobs twice, so this Mack Attack didn’t faze me. I knew that Mack didn’t care about me or what was best for my career; he was working toward the best interests of the company.
“I certainly don’t hold that against Mack, but the incident did serve as an important lesson that you should pass on to your graduate: Look after your own career interests,” he says. “Nobody else is going to do it for you.”
About the Author:
Ben Carpenter is author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life. He began his career as a commercial lending officer at the Bankers Trust Company. Two years later he joined Bankers Trust’s Primary Dealer selling U.S. Treasury bonds. After a brief stop at Morgan Stanley, Ben joined Greenwich Capital, which, during his 22-year career there, became one of the most respected and profitable firms on Wall Street. At Greenwich Capital, Ben was a salesman, trader, sales manager, co-chief operating officer, and co-CEO.
Part two of this story will discuss 11 more pieces of advice to help your grad get ready for the real world…