My address to the graduating class of 2012

Although it is certainly not the easiest time to enter the workforce, work will probably be the biggest single influence on your life. My first piece of advice is to take the job. You know the job I am talking about. The one that is far from perfect. The one that doesn’t come close to aligning with what you thought you wanted to do. I say this because your work life will be a journey through uncharted territory and it is easier for everyone involved if you come to terms with the fact that most jobs choose you – not the other way around. However, if you pay attention to just a few small things, you will be well on your way to a successful career.

Apparently when you introduce a new hen to an existing brood you need to slip her into the henhouse when all the other hens are asleep. When they wake up, they think the new arrival has always been there and carry on about their clucking and egg laying rather than pecking the hapless foreign chicken to death. It is a sad reality that during the interview process you are treated as a valuable commodity with sought-after skills and experience, but when you arrive on the doorstep to start work, no one will remember who you are and why they hired you. This is where the hen part comes in: strive to be that hen. Do not call undue attention to yourself as a new kid on the block. If you watch, listen and follow instructions (no matter how dumb they might be), you will quickly find the best way to contribute that proves your value.

Online social networks have their purpose, but there is no substitute for real live people-to-people networks. The word network in the work context has gotten a bit of a bad rap so perhaps we need a different term to describe what I’m talking about. Maybe what I really mean is paying attention to maintaining you relationships. One of the most important life-long assets you will build at work is the people you will meet and work with. Some of them will become true friends, some will be added to your list of people to avoid at all cost, and many will fall into the category of colleagues that you will cross paths with many times in the future. Take care not to fall into the black hole of lost contacts – you never know when you might need them. That’s because it is truer now more than ever that you will get most of your jobs through people you know or through the people that know them.

As Yeats said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” This is a gentle reminder that there is no short cut to experience. So embrace the crappy, thankless, useless, and ridiculous projects and jobs that will no doubt come your way. Your ability to synthesize and extract the true lessons along the way will be your best revenge.