The best career advice from this year’s graduation speeches


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This year's headline-grabbing commencement speeches have been high on thinly veiled critiques of the Trump administration and big on dire warnings about the state of American democracy.

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson cautioned graduates at Virginia Military Institute about the end of American democracy if Americans don't “confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders.” Michael Bloomberg talked at Rice University of the threat from “our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party and in pursuit of power.” And 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, raising a Russian ushanka hat as part of a Yale University tradition, said Sunday that “we're living through a full-fledged crisis in our democracy,” telling students “to stay vigilant, to neither close our eyes, nor numb our hearts or throw up our hands.”

But not all of this year's graduation speeches are quite so political or cautionary. A few — though not many — seemed to remember that they were speaking before a group of people who were about to embark upon life as adults who will have to navigate the politics of the workplace, the complexities of new relationships and the decisions of adult life. (Oprah Winfrey to USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism graduates: “Invest in a quality mattress. Your back will thank you later.")

Here, some of the best advice offered by this year's commencement speakers so far that graduates — or anyone — can apply to their work and careers:

Oprah Winfrey, chair and CEO of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California

Winfrey, whose past speeches have drawn speculation that she might be planning a run for president — a rumor she has squashed — got plenty of attention for her calls for graduates to vote in her speech at USC on May 11. But after offering a litany of practical wisdom (“Eat a good breakfast,” she said. “Pay your bills on time. Recycle.") she also added some clear advice for graduates' time in the workplace.

“The number one lesson I can offer you where your work is concerned,” said the media titan, “is this: Become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do, that your talent cannot be dismissed.”

She also countered the typical “do what you love” advice that fill so many graduation speeches with something else. “You need to know this: Your job is not always going to fulfill you,” she said. “There will be some days that you just might be bored. Other days you may not feel like going to work at all. Go anyway, and remember that your job is not who you are. It’s just what you are doing on the way to who you will become. With every remedial chore, every boss who takes credit for your ideas — that is going to happen — look for the lessons, because the lessons are always there.” (Read More...)

How to Cold Call Your Future Mentor

Getting that first meeting with an in-demand executive or potential mentor can change the course of a person’s career. But how do you break through with someone you’ve never met before? PHOTO: ISTOCK

Getting that first meeting with an in-demand executive or potential mentor can change the course of a person’s career. But how do you break through with someone you’ve never met before? PHOTO: ISTOCK

Getting a meeting with an influential person you admire actually could change your life, by opening doors and providing inspiration or advice.

But how do you connect with a total stranger who is in demand and make that person want to meet with you? Pulling off the career equivalent of a moon landing requires a first contact that is pitch-perfect: the perfect subject line, a winning introduction, a request that isn’t too big or vague, and—a subtle touch that’s often overlooked—a hint of what you can offer in return.

Most people reach out by email, and these emails are often swiftly deleted, experts and executives say. Often, the sender is asking for too much time—even an hour is usually too long—or too much commitment, such as saying outright, “Will you help me get a job?” Unfocused requests for pointless conversations, such as asking about the recipient’s accomplishments or background, also tend to land straight in the trash.

That first email should show that the sender is well informed and prepared for a purposeful discussion. Give a succinct summary of who you are, what you want to accomplish, what you are asking for and if possible, something you can offer.  (Read More...)

Importance of Mentors in College

Authored by Brandon Busteed

A few months after Gallup released findings from the largest representative study of U.S. college graduates, there is much to ponder. The Gallup-Purdue Index surveyed more than 30,000 graduates to find out whether they are engaged in their work and thriving in their overall well-being. In simple terms, did they end up with great jobs and great lives?

We learned some stunning things. But one of the most important is that where you went to college matters less to your work life and well-being after graduation than how you went to college. Feeling supported and having deep learning experiences during college means everything when it comes to long-term outcomes after college. Unfortunately, not many graduates receive a key element of that support while in college: having a mentor. And this is perhaps the biggest blown opportunity in the history of higher ed.

Six critical elements during college jumped off the pages of our research as being strongly linked to long-term success in work and life after graduation. Three of these elements relate to experiential and deep learning: having an internship or job where students were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, being actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and working on projects that took a semester or more to complete.

But the three most potent elements linked to long-term success for college grads relate to emotional support: feeling that they had a professor who made them excited about learning, that the professors at their alma mater cared about them as a person, and that they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. If graduates strongly agree with these three things, it doubles the odds they are engaged in their work and thriving in their overall well-being. Read More...

Social Network Effects in Hiring

Photograph by Nancy Rothstein

Photograph by Nancy Rothstein

Authored by Laura Geller

Authored by Laura Geller

Job seekers are keenly aware that who they know matters. A contact at a prospective employer can push a resume to the top of the pile, put in a good word, or arrange an introductory lunch. Companies, for their part, are happy to oblige. Employee referrals help them cut through the noise, target searches, and save money.

Social networks play a positive role in the hiring process. But what can these useful connections tell us about performance on the job? Does the advantage of knowing someone carry over once an individual joins a firm? Adina Sterling has been asking these questions since transitioning from engineer to academic nearly a decade ago. Sterling had spent five years with Procter & Gamble’s global baby care and beauty care R&D teams before leaving to pursue a Ph.D. in organization and management. She joined the faculty of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business as an assistant professor in the fall of 2015. Read More...

At UC San Diego, retired professors are mentoring first-generation college students

A mentoring program can provide crucial support to students. JD Lasica, CC BY-NC

A mentoring program can provide crucial support to students. JD Lasica, CC BY-NC

Authored by Melvin Green, Professor Emeritus Biology, University of California, San Diego

My mother cried when I told her I was changing my major from engineering to chemistry. Her fear was that I would never earn a living as a chemist.

When she heard a few years later that I planned to go for a PhD in chemistry, her only comment was,

So why don’t you at least become a real doctor?

Doctor, lawyer, engineer – these were careers that Eastern European immigrants such as my mother and father knew had definite earning power. Having survived the Great Depression, they believed earning a living was all that mattered.

As a student in the 1950s, I had never heard of the word “mentor.” In retrospect, as a first-generation college student, I would have really been helped by having a “mentor,” especially with regard to choosing a career.

So, for the past 10 years, following my retirement as professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego, my greatest joy and sense of satisfaction has come from mentoring undergraduates.

First-generation students

It wasn’t always that way.

As a young professor, struggling to climb the academic ladder toward tenure and a full professorship, my research took precedence over all else, including teaching and even family life. Read More...

The Answer? Start With a Question

Photo Credits: Natural Step Canada

Photo Credits: Natural Step Canada

“Next time, you know what you should do to get what you want?”

It was my first job after business school, at a client meeting with a mentor. I had no idea what I should do. What my wise mentor said next is forever etched onto my brain.

“Start with a question.”

What is the typical approach to educating consumers about products, i.e., advertising? Same as mine was: one-way information transmission, hoping beyond hope, that the message hits the targets–the shotgun approach, which usually results in a pain here and there, especially in the butt, rather than coming anywhere close to the heart. Want to touch someone where they live and breathe, the core of any person? Ask a question, listen to the answer, respond in kind. It will lead to better questions and better answers. You’ll build a relationship through this evolving dialog that is more than about what shows up on a balance sheet–in order to dramatically improve that balance sheet. Then, apply marketing strategies that get better results for less cost. Thank you, Master Mentor!

Many companies have been shifting their marketing spending to online channels that use sophisticated technologies and promise to get ads seen by more eyeballs in the target demographic. Tech companies, thirsty for revenue, have figured out that helping bigger companies get in front of consumers, is an effective business model–for the tech companies, but not for the businesses spending the money because that marketing strategy has degraded into a race of who can spend the most money to yell the loudest.

Remember Toyota’s Camry “Effect” campaign? Toyota essentially spammed people’s Twitter accounts during the Super Bowl with the “Camry Effect a Friend Giveaway!” Unsuspecting people received auto-replies from @CamryEffect when they simply tweeted about their favorite team or the upcoming game. Result? A massive consumer backlash. Say “so-long” to yelling, and hello to listening and relationship-building and succeeding.

The game of advertising one-upmanship results in bigger and bigger media buys and blanket messaging, but results seldom approach expectations. To make the situation even more challenging, we have a whole new generation of consumers, the Millennials, who have developed extra-thick filters to block out traditional advertising messages. Time to yell even louder, right?

Good news is that think tanks have spent vast energy and resources to understand this new and increasingly dominant, highly educated consumer segment, and we now have some insight into how to get through those extra-thick filters, without any yelling.

Millennials love and want to share, not just photos on Instagram or the latest animated GIF, but also their opinions. If they know about your product, they’ve probably got an opinion about your product and they’re ready to tell you and the rest of the world what they think. So why not ask them directly? Or better yet, make them your partners.

No doubt, online channels are the most efficient way to reach out, connect and engage with Millennials, but instead of relying on Facebook and Twitter, companies should reach out directly to their audience – under their own brand. You can create an online interactive, media-rich online experience under your own brand and engage with (or better yet, ask) your consumers directly.

The other critical ingredient for success is media content. Millennials were raised on interactive media. They like to engage with, and feel, and make that content their own. Key to this most effective online outreach is integrating art & media in the online experience. Customers reward companies like Coca-Cola and BMW for doing an exceptional job in creating media integrated online experiences to form and solidify their customer relationships. For example, Coca Cola’s microsite experiences are not only engaging Millennials but also jointly creating great media content.

Savvy consumers, especially Millennials, demand a carefully planned and well-executed online experience with impactful content and eye-catching aesthetic design. Your success hinges on creating that relationship–that evolving dialogue–whether about a product or service, that is creative, authentic and respectful of the opinions of your consumers. Only when you and your campaign demonstrate the essential traits and actions–reach out directly and form partnerships with your customers, integrate art and media content, and, rather than open your mouth to shout, instead open your ears and listen–will you be able to establish that elusive bond that every brand would hope to share with its customers.

Your bonus for starting with a question and for more carefully crafted creative efforts? Far less cost while achieving exponentially more effectiveness. So what kind of questions would you like to ask your customers?

From College to Career: Her First Job After Graduation

Authored by Diane Propsner is an advocate of women’s colleges and blogs about their advantages on her blog site. She has an undergraduate degree in biology from a women’s college in Pennsylvania. Her career involves recruiting within the life sciences and technology as well as providing coaching services for job seekers.

I don’t know about you, but I always get tickled pink when I learn about a person getting hired, maybe it’s the recruiter in me. And there’s something extra special when it’s the first job after college.

For this blog post, I decided to check in with several women’s colleges to see what jobs their newest alumnae have landed; and I’m so glad I did. Getting acquainted with these young women is always inspiring. And knowing they are well prepared to embrace any career they choose makes me smile. Building on a solid academic education, including opportunities for developing skills and leadership abilities, they also had the career services support necessary, including strong alumnae networks to tap into. Read More…