13 things I wish I knew when I graduated

L. Joe Boyer | 21 Apr 2015 | Comments

As spring arrives, a new batch of grads are eager to enter the next phase of their lives and begin navigating their careers. It can be an intimidating time, with a whole new set of rules in play. The behaviors and skills that may have helped you be a standout in school may not necessarily make you a leader at work. For what it may be worth to you, I am sharing what I feel to be critical bits of life experiences I gained over the last 28 years, which I simply feel may be beneficial in the infancy of your career.


  1. Keep your ego in check. The leaders I’ve come to admire have been humble and work hard to manage their egos. They are down to earth and rub elbows with everyone. Egos are short-lived, fragile, and often get in the way. Learn to check your ego at the door and learn approachable openness.
  2. For as many times as you state your opinion, ask twice as many questions. Now is the time to ask questions and listen to what others have to say. Go broad and deep for sources of those answers and learn to filter the responses.
  3. Be bold—you can afford early mistakes. Youthful energy is a valuable tool. Go for what you think may be impossible and you’ll likely surprise yourself. If you fall short, take some time to reflect on what lessons you can take away—then shake it off and press forward. You have time to your advantage.
  4. Cherish your client relationships. Nothing may be more valuable in your career as the client relationships you develop. Nourish your business development skills and use them daily. And don’t ever let those clients go, ever!
  1. Watch the balance in your life. This will likely not be what you want to hear, but early on, imbalance may be necessary to become established in your career. Just be sure to level out once you get established. I’ve found that balance wins out over burnout.
  2. Realize you are in competition with your peers. Know that you are being compared to your peers. Pick out your absolute best peer, and go outwork them. It’s a great way to stretch your abilities. But remember to always compete with class!
  3. Grab onto a mentor or two. Don’t underestimate the need for someone to help pull you along in your career, push you towards opportunities, help clear political barriers, and give you a fair chance to get out from under the “hardened upper crust.” It’s much easier to learn from someone else’s experience than to repeat their mistakes. And don’t be timid to ask, it’s actually quite charming when a humble young associate requests sincere guidance.
  4. Be brave enough to collaborate. In my experience this is a skill set few are born with, but is one of the most overlooked elements of success. You don’t need to have all the answers—foster the ability to lead a team in search of those answers. Develop this skill and do it early.
  5. Seriously consider your image and don’t overlook its impact. Take some time to consider every facet of your image—your fashion, promptness, language, office appearance, social life, reliability, etc. Groom and protect your image carefully, and understand that everything you put your name on is a direct reflection of you.
  6. Focus on what you like to do, but remember the things you hate to do. Follow your passions—that is likely where your natural strengths are. Of equal importance is to remember what you hate to do—those are likely the things you are not good at (and may just be your unraveling).
  1. Don’t be afraid to take on a difficult job. Taking the job nobody else wants may be an opportunity to make a name for yourself as the “go-to” person. By taking on a difficult job, you’ll gather new skills out of necessity and will likely outpace those in “safe” jobs. This is also the time to travel—jump at those opportunities early.
  2. Know who you are and what you stand for. Take a good look in the mirror and figure out what your personal values are. Then, draw a line in the sand and make a stand for those values without fail. This will help bring clarity in difficult situations and prevent you from compromising yourself.
  3. Lastly, PERFECT YOUR PEOPLE SKILLS. Business is all about relationships, and always will be. Clients, peers, and supervisors want to work with people they enjoy interacting with. Don’t be afraid to show them gentleness and kindness. Also, embrace diversity in your inner circle—expand your understanding of a wide variety of people, cultures, and differing viewpoints.


Do you have some great career advice to add to the list? I’d love to hear it. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.