THE BLOG

A Final Lesson for Grads: Learn the 22 Keys to Career Success

04/29/2014 04:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2014

I was fortunate to have a successful thirty year career in private industry before returning to my great alma mater as an adjunct professor. One of the lessons I teach my students is how to turn themselves into valuable brands, ones that will grow and flourish for an entire career. Like any other important endeavor, achieving a successful career requires a lot of critical thinking to insure that our strategies and tactics are carefully created and executed. I have discovered 22 insights that, when properly applied, will help you launch, grow, and sustain success. Learn them. Send them to other grads. It is my graduation present to you.

1. Discover the Career Trifecta: Most never know what they are looking for in a career, and so they can't find it. The career you select should be one you love, where your skills will help you excel, while paying an income large enough to support the life you want to live. Sadly, many people achieve none of these. Some attain just one or two. When you attain all three, it is magic!

2. Find a Rocket: When searching for your career trifecta, pay close attention to industries that are growing, to premier growth companies within those industries, and to smart bosses who can teach you a lot and are destined to move upwards. If you find a position that has all three, it greatly increases the odds that your career will blast off into the stratosphere.

3. Own A Unique Expertise: As your career advances, find an important niche within your industry where knowledge, products and/or services are sorely lacking, and then deliver them well. Keep learning and advancing knowledge. You will become indispensible.

4. Learn the Surrounding Disciplines: If you are the marketing specialist, learn about finance. If you are the artist, learn the business side. This reveals the big picture, makes you more valuable, and helps you become management material.

5. Be a Leader Before Anyone Expects It: Early in your career focus on the big stuff like company vision, objectives, and strategies. The more that your work helps your organization achieve the important things, the faster you will rise. Take the initiative, take ownership of projects, take responsibility, and have an optimistic can-do attitude. Others will follow.

6. Exceed Expectations: If your boss needs results by Friday, deliver them Thursday. If she asks for two good solutions for some challenge, give her four great ones. Over-delivering is key.

7. Use Both Hemispheres of Your Brain: Some use a rational approach to decision making. Others use more of an emotional/creative approach. Those who use both stand out.

8. Make Your Contributions Known on the Inside: If your boss does not know of your efforts, the work will not count. Sorry. You must find a way to make your contributions known. It could be as easy as issuing a weekly status report.

9. Communicate Your Ideas to the World: You must develop a reputation outside of your company's walls. Without that, you are invisible to the world. Speak at conferences, write for journals and blogs. The greater you expand your reach, the greater your opportunities.

10. Take Measured Risks: Fear is ever-present. It prevents you from many things like voicing your ideas or asking for a promotion. Defeat it. At worse you will fail. That's no big deal. Babe Ruth is remembered for his 714 home runs and not for his 1,330 strike outs.

11. Network Before You Need It: Success is 33 percent of what you know and 67 percent of who you know. Cultivate contacts early. I make my Linkedin contacts available to my students and arrange informational interviews before jobs are posted. Those who have the inside track win.

12. Know Your Worth: Search salaries online for jobs that are reflective of your experience. When a potential employer asks for your salary requirements, use the data. If you are currently underpaid in your current position, use the data to ask for more. The worse they can say is "no".

13. Never Let Your Ego Outweigh Your Talent: If your ego gets larger than your talent, you will eventually be fired. If your talent stays well above your ego, you will be cherished.

14. Avoid Company Politics: Don't disparage other employees. Ever! Because they will find out. Don't pick sides when others battle. Just be considerate of others, do good work for all, and make your contributions known. That's the best way to insulate yourself from the politicians.

15. Keep Your Ears Open: Companies are always making changes. It's advantageous to know what's ahead. Make friends with your CFO and head of human resources. They know everything.

16. Don't Suffer Demon Bosses: If you cannot resolve problems through your own mediation, go to human resources or use outside means. When all else fails, quit. Life is too short. But always have an exit strategy. Interview even when you're happy because environments change.

17. Hire People Better Than You: Don't be intimidated by potential new hires who are better. Good underlings make you look good and free you up to do higher level work. So hire those with skills you lack. Good employees know that one of their tasks is to get you promoted.

18. Remember What Mama Said: Don't lie, cheat, steal, break promises or engage in illegal activities. Your behavior is not invisible, nor is it forgotten when you are socializing with co-workers after work. Your reputation is never "off the clock".

19. Mark the Moments You Enjoy: All jobs are shiny when new. Then they get older and more dull. If 80 percent of your career tasks becomes mundane, focus on the 20 percent that still excites you. Mentally mark the moments.

20. Manage Your Expectations: In generations past, the primary objective of a job was to pay the bills. Many of today's students expect jobs to satisfy a grand lifestyle. Wake up, kids. You need to work your butt off to pay for that lifestyle. You still must pay your dues.

21. Don't Be Afraid to Change Careers: Most people do. What you thought was the trifecta in your twenties may not be the trifecta in your thirties. In later years, many people such as myself found great rewards not by finding new jobs, but by creating them. It's immensely rewarding.

22. Remember What Really Matters: When in the trenches, it is easy for employees to succumb to mass hysteria because sales are down 1 percent, or because Baltimore didn't get its product shipment, or because the numbers sent to the CFO included errors. Just fix what you can and move on. My wife is a nurse and has worked primarily in labor and delivery. Any problems I have had on the job cannot compare to any one of the lives she has saved. When corporate panic strikes, put it into perspective.

Follow this advice and you will increase the odds of having a successful, rewarding career. And in the words of my alma mater, "Fight On!"