A new university graduating class is starting to take their place in the working world after hearing all sorts of advice at commencement addresses. But those perky talks filled with platitudes may have been fake news.
"The platitudes of graduation speeches are so damaging. It sets you up for some magical moment when you enter adulthood and the world of opportunity opens up to you," says career adviser and saucy blogger Penelope Trunk.
"But actually the world does not open up after college. Either it opened up to you the day you were born to very rich parents, or you will have to search high and low for a crowbar large enough to pry open the world of opportunity and sneak a foot in before it snaps shut again."
Here's what she says you needed to hear instead:
- Don’t fulfill somebody else’s dreams. The reality is that you are probably not going to do anything special in your career – few people do. And although teachers told you that if you do well in school, you’ll do well in your career, that’s not likely. To have a great career you have to give up everything else and focus on your career. Most people don’t want to do that and it’s fine for you to also feel that way.
- Your job was school and now you are out of a job. The good thing is that from now on nobody will tell you what you need to learn. On the other hand, you have been training for the past 18 years to be an academic and unless you want to enter that field you are now undergoing a career change. “Realize your training is irrelevant, which means you are starting over,” she says.
- Don’t obsess about your friends’ online reports and try to keep pace with them because they are invariably lying about their situation. “The truth is everyone is either unhappy or lost in their twenties or they are putting unhappiness off until their thirties by being a doctor or lawyer. Stop going through what people are posting online and find friends you can connect with. Those are the ones who will be real,” she advises.
- Don’t pretend you know what you’re doing since nobody will believe it. Show humility and ask for lots of help.
- Learn to cope with the word “no” since you’ll hear it a lot. She shares advice from author George Santino: Get to the “no” as fast as possible in situations, ask why and then address what’s missing.
- Make tough choices. “People who have successful careers have a chosen career by age 25. Just get into a career and make it work,” she says.
You may have liked superheroes when you were a kid. But nobody is a superhero, she stresses, so just be you. And keep her cynical advice in mind.
Buying local food and other goods has become an important economic force and HR consultant Tim Sackett thinks companies may want the same approach when hiring their staff. After all, people prefer to live near to where they work so they don't waste a bundle of time commuting each day.
"Commuting hours are for the most part one of the biggest drags on balance. Sure you can be productive on your commute, but it's not really what you would prefer to be doing!" he writes on his blog.
So what if you only hired people who were willing to live close to your workplace – less than five kilometres, for example – so they could even walk or bike in a reasonable time?
The advantages of what he calls hyperlocal hiring would include better work-life balance, a sore point in most people's existence, and the likelihood of stronger ties between employees, as they live near each other, which would probably increase their tenure with the firm. He suspects that living and working in close proximity would drive a stronger culture.
He admits organizations with 10,000 employees can't pull this off as it would be difficult and expensive to create the required housing. But he feels small- and medium-sized businesses could use this as a big advantage in attracting a younger work force.
Yes, it limits the candidate pool for jobs. And he argues that's hunky-dory. "I want to limit my candidate pool to others who share this vision with me. To work and build a community in a micro-community with all of us involved! Yeah, Hippies! Come join the commune, but in a very modern, free-will, capitalist sense of being!" he concludes.
Questions for skip-level one-on-ones
To better understand what's happening in the workplace, leaders will often hold skip-level, one-on-one meetings – individually sitting down with their subordinates' direct reports to chat. The Lighthouse blog on leadership and management offers 47 questions to build rapport, including these, to find out whom to praise and why:
- Who do you enjoy working with most on your team? Why them?
- Who has done awesome work lately? How did they contribute?
- Who is an unsung hero in your organization? What do they do that deserves recognition?
- Has anyone gone well above and beyond lately? What did they do?
- Do you feel we properly recognize people here? Why or why not?
- Who played a critical role in the success of [recent project x]? What did they do?
- What is the greatest strength of your team? Who personifies that best?
- Who on your team makes those around them better? How do they do it?
- What’s something your manager does that you’d like them to continue or do more of?
- If you were forming a new team, who are the people you’d most want on your team? Why them?
- Halifax-based career adviser Gerald Walsh says most people who accept a counter-offer from their employer after announcing an intention to leave end up finding things don’t change at the workplace and are looking for a new job within a year. “Remember, last-minute counter-offers tend to be temporary solutions,” he writes on his blog. “In most cases, it is best to say ‘no thanks.’”
- Management researcher Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says leaders are like sheep dogs. That means they should follow three rules sheep dogs are trained in: One, you can bark a lot, but don’t bite. Two, you have to be behind, not ahead, of the sheep. Three, you must know where to go: you must not lose the sheep.
- Behind every question a subordinate asks is another question, says leadership blogger Ron Edmondson. That question is the more important one, so probe why they are asking the question – the motive and intent, which you need to respond to.
- The one type of meeting probably not in your calendar is a vital one, says consultant Kevin Kruse: Regular time for strategic thinking. Block off time to consider what about your strategy is not going well and how to adjust.
- If you’re sensing behaviour at your firm may be sliding toward unethical actions, put up a moral symbol in your office – a poster of Gandhi or an ethically relevant quotation. Maryam Kouchaki, an assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management, says it can serve as an amulet against being asked to join in workplace corruption.