5 Valuable Things No One Tells College Grads Entering the Real World

06/15/2017 09:43 am ET

Making your mark on the world begins with taking control of the little things that can either or stall or fast-track a fledgling career

When college graduates begin their career, most begin with a blank resume, limited relationships, and an uphill battle to success. Sure, maybe some of them attended top-tier universities or landed stellar internships during their college years. But in many ways, graduation is like hitting “reset” as they enter the real world.

So how can a recent graduate transition from an empty resume to a fully successful career? According to Antonio Neves, an author and speaker specializing in the millennial workplace, finding career success requires graduates to go beyond what they learned in the classroom. Employers today crave people skills, problem solving, creative thinking and emotional intelligence.

Neves also believes that regardless of where they went to college or what they majored in, any graduate can build a successful career. But it requires a nontraditional approach to making choices as a young professional that can impact your career growth in surprising ways. Here are five important lessons, excerpted from his book 50 Ways To Excel In Your First Job (And In Life), that Neves learned as a first-generation college student who had to guide himself through navigating the real world:

1. Find People Who Make You Better

Most young professionals’ careers stall not because they don’t have the skills to succeed, but because they surround themselves with the wrong people early on. They think it’s all about “who you know” when it’s actually “who knows you” best.

Neves encourages young professionals to build strong relationships with “allies” and to avoid “thieves.” Thieves are anyone from colleagues to peers who steal away your time and energy. They fail to encourage, support, or hold people accountable to be the best they can be. On the flipside, allies encourage, empower, and support others. They challenge them in a positive way to produce great work and exceed expectations. It’s essential to identify thieves early on and create boundaries, Neves says, while keeping allies close.

2. Your First Job Won’t Be Your Last Job

College graduates and their parents put a lot of pressure on landing that perfect first job out of college. Young professionals agonize about making the “wrong” choice as if it has the power to doom them to a horrible career path forever. Neves says this couldn’t be further from the truth because almost certainly, their first job won’t be the last.

In fact, based on workplace trends, most young professionals are currently open to leaving their first employer for a new career opportunity. The employment landscape has evolved. Lifelong (or even decade-long) employment is a thing of the past. This means don’t stress about picking the perfect job.

Instead, Neves says it’s important to ensure that there are development and training opportunities available through your employer. Ask if the job is in a city that makes you happy or where the industry you’re interested in is thriving. There’s no wrong decision as long as you learn, grow, and feel challenged.

3. Forget the Dress Code: Dress for the Job You Want

Dress codes these days are very relaxed at many companies. T-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops aren’t necessarily considered unacceptable in offices anymore. But Neves says to keep an eye on the people who are in the positions you’d like to have one day. Observe how they dress and how they present themselves. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

4. Before You Press Send, Hit Pause

Emails have a notorious reputation for getting people in trouble, from sending an email too soon to hitting “reply all” on a not so politically correct response. Great writing skills are one of the most in-demand professional skills according to employers.

Neves recommends always reading and rereading what you wrote before sending an email. If it’s important, you can even have a colleague take to look to ensure the email is clear, mistake-free, and being sent to the right people with only pertinent information. Once an email is out there, you create a virtual paper trail with your name attached to it. So remember: write with care. When in doubt, always veer towards being professional rather than casual.

5. Be a Regular: Have a Go-To Spot

Early in your career, you’ll probably spend more time at the office than at home. Neves says it’s important to create a “3rd place” that’s not the office or home where you can become a regular. This could be a restaurant, lounge, or café.

When you have a spot like this, you’re gradually able to build relationships with people and professionals outside your standard day-to-day circle. A benefit is that you’ll get to know the staff at these establishments and they’ll get to know you. They can introduce you to people, spark interesting conversations, and have your back when you need a table for that important meeting.

So if you’re a new grad, Neves puts it simply: “Be thoughtful about how you engage with the real world, and it’ll be kind to you in return.”

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