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Advice for Starting Your Career

Around this time last year, I found myself experiencing the mix of excitement and nerves that accompany senior year of college in anticipation of the future. No longer was I looking forward to an internship during the impending summer—I had to begin the process of preparing for interviews for my first job out of college.

Every senior goes through it, yet not all are able to secure jobs prior to graduation, especially during this sluggish economic recovery. Last year’s seniors finished during a time of 8.5 percent unemployment and 16.8 percent underemployment among college graduates between the ages of 21 and 24, according to the Economic Policy Institute. On top of it, stagnant wage growth persists.

However, whether you are considering next steps during your senior year of college, are still looking for a job despite graduating in May, or have assumed your first full-time position, there are universal precepts worth thinking about. Having worked in the labor force since graduating last December, here are some lessons I have gleaned:

Now is the time to fail. My Uncle said this to me last Thanksgiving, a couple of weeks before I graduated from college. Fast forward a few months, and I heard a similar statement on the radio: “If you’re not failing, you’re probably not trying hard enough.” While failure is not the goal, value lies within the possibility of failure. If taking on risk means moving out to Silicon Valley to pursue a startup with a “get rich quick” attitude, you’ll be sorely disappointed, as most start ups fail. But those who assume risk and pursue a dream with the right intentions, will most likely benefit even if their visions do not come to fruition. Failure provides the opportunity to learn how to better achieve success; it also teaches humility and makes subsequent peaks less intimidating.

[pq]Failure provides the opportunity to learn how to better achieve success.[/pq]

My Uncle told me, now is the time to fail, because now is when I can fail: the responsibility I currently bear pares in comparison to what I will endure in the future—when I have a family, or need to pay a mortgage, etc.  If you don’t take risks when you are young, when can you? Granted, millennials are strapped with record levels of student debt, and not all have the luxury to assume a risky career move. But, if afforded the opportunity, undertaking risk helps individuals transcend mediocrity by reaching beyond what is comfortable.

Settle when you’re older out of need, not when you’re young with a whole life of upside potential.

Don’t chase money… just yet. I often hear older adults advise against choosing a job based on money: a higher payoff will fail to suffice for the lack of utility. This may be true for some, but ultimately, it is a personal, philosophical question of whether a less enjoyable job is worth the money, or not.

With that said, accepting a first job that offers less money than other options may prove prudent over time, if you are afforded a richer experience than a higher paying position. If you are strategic and identify an opportunity that has a greater potential to further your long-term career goals, but offers less money in the interim, it may be worth the sacrifice.

Specialize. Specialization is required in an increasingly competitive economic environment. Enter a field that you are passionate about, where you know you can add value, and you are more likely to persevere and succeed. Furthermore, find a niche within that field to gain a level of expertise. The idea of “disruption” has garnered much attention over the past several years, stemming from Clayton Christensen’s book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”  In the same vein, innovate and identify the next area of growth within your industry, and participate in its disruption. Get ahead of the curve, or you could fall behind, even if you are doing the right thing in the industry at the time.

In my next post, I’ll share five more lessons that I’ve learned in the past year.