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Advice for College Graduates: Treat Your Career Like a Startup

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Though technically this is a blog about startups, I want to take a bit of a divergence this week and talk to an audience that is soon to join the professional world after this month: the graduating senior.

Careers launched in 2014 will hardly follow the straight-arrow path of ones from the previous generation. The expected job tenure of the average college graduate today is less than three years, which translates to about 15-20 different jobs over a lifetime compared to about seven for my generation. This means that the skills, knowledge and degree that one attains in college will hardly be enough to prepare graduates for a lifetime of career hopping.

To this, I have one proposed solution: to thrive in your future career, best to adopt the mindset of a startup, where change and constant evolution are the norm. Or, to paraphrase Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, live life as if you are in permanent Beta.

  • Be Pro-Action. You can wait around to be offered the "perfect job" or you can go out there and create it for yourself. This may mean starting your own thing or just making the most from the first job you earn out of college. Mentors, knowledge and career changing experiences can be found everywhere -- even where you least expect them.
  • Adopt a Mindset of Constant Learning. College education is great but hardly the only knowledge you'll need to thrive for the next 40 years. Make constant learning and "upgrading" of your "software" a lifelong habit. There is so much knowledge and information accessible today -- make the most of it.
  • Constantly Upgrade your Network. Each year I take inventory of the people I know and do business with and I ask myself how many of those I met in the last year. If your network is stagnant, your opportunities will be too. Make a constant effort to evolve your constantly.
  • Business is Personal. You won't make friends and open doors by sitting behind your tablet. Life altering experiences happen when you go outside your comfort zone and get to know people in a real, human way. It's both career enriching and soul-filling to really get to connect with people. LinkedIn is great but knowing the actual person is even better.
  • Make Your Passion Your Career. Yes, you can make money doing something that you kind of like but are not in love with, but to quote a Chinese proverb, if you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life. In the long term, if you are passionate about what you do, you will also make the necessary investments and effort you need to evolve and excel at it. And then the real monetary return will follow.
  • Be Open Source. Good ideas come from everywhere. Constantly seek to get to know people from different backgrounds and experiences than you. Not only will this enhance your worldview and perspective but it will also give you access to worlds far beyond the one you currently inhabit -- and open doors that you don't even know are there.
  • Create an Advisory Board. I've never met anyone who is not happy to share with me their experience and input. If startups have advisory boards, why not you and your career? Having an informal group of people that you talk with and get their input will enhance your decision making and also broaden your available network of opportunities. Parents are great advisors, but peers and supervisors are awesome too.

Here's to the new graduating class. Here's to them changing our world.