8 Tips Every New College Grad Needs to Succeed

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: May 22, 2013

You've Graduated! (So Now What?)

Congratulations. After four years of classes, midterms, finals, projects, reports, stress, growth, and everything else higher learning brings with it, the time is here. You’ve graduated.

So now what?

All of you have degrees in hand, and the lucky among you have already secured your first jobs. But while the degree may have helped you get the job, success within the position is totally up to you from here on out. This is no longer a classroom, it’s a real-live business that is now depending on you to thrive and help it do the same. And if you don’t, there’s no extra credit – just the unemployment line.
I know, I’ve been there. So here’s what I’ve learned in the 10 years since my own graduation to get you off on the right foot. Congratulations, and good luck.

8. Your Job Doesn't Have to Relate to Your Degree

Only 54% of Americans work in an industry directly related to their college degree, according to a 2013 Salary.com poll. Yes that is sobering, but also a lesson in exploring all your options. If you limit your career to the most obvious choices, you risk missing out on something potentially spectacular.

7. Opinions are Great, Data is Better

Just assume you are not the smartest person in the room.

This is not to say youth equals stupidity. You have life experience, yes, but your colleagues are looking for data not conjecture. You were safe to float theories and hypothesize in the classroom, but now you'll have to back your gut feeling with actual numbers and truths. Do this and you will be well on your way to becoming a trusted asset.

6. Become a "Subject Matter Expert"

There are two ways to approach this:

  1. Find a business hole related to something you already have expertise in, and fill it!
  2. Find something you’re passionate about or volunteer to learn as much as you can to help fill that void, regardless of your experience or interest.

Example: your company is considering building a mobile application. So take one hour each day to educate yourself on the mobile space and begin offering up what you learn to the business. With a steady beat of data points over the course of days, weeks and months, you can systematically insert yourself as the subject matter expert on any subject. Then you're the go-to guy/gal whenever this subject comes up, which builds up your value within the company.

5. Understand Your Own Company

I'm always surprised to talk to people who've been in their jobs six months or a year who, when asked what their company does, fumble around before producing a half incoherent answer that tells me they're not exactly sure.

Most companies have an entire product offering, multiple business units, and tiered go-to-market strategies. You do not need to become an expert in everything that makes your business run, but you should be able to speak intelligently to the entire business. That won’t happen overnight, but it’s a valuable knowledge set to acquire.

4. Always Take Notes

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to force yourself to jot everything down. EVERYTHING.

There's nothing worse than spending an hour or more in a planning and strategy session, only to realize that you haven't written anything down. So when your boss touches base with you in a couple of days and asks you to reference the meeting, you've got nothing. Even if you're against pencil and paper, there are plenty of apps for that.

3. Find a Sponsor AND a Mentor

What's the difference? A sponsor is the person who will be your champion in front of leadership and decision-makers. A mentor is the person you learn from and who helps you grow as a professional.

The older you get the more of both you should have. You are responsible for your career but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help along the way.

2. Ask for Ongoing Performance Reviews

Be in charge of your career and ask for feedback. If doesn’t have to be a formal process, it can be monthly, annually, or after significant milestones. Just make sure you are getting some form of feedback from your manager so you can continue to grow professionally.

In addition to proving yourself an engaged employee perpetually on the lookout for constructive criticism, a standing performance review with your boss also provides ample opportunity to ask for a raise when/if you've proved yourself valuable to the company.

1. Be Patient

As we enter into our first jobs we are excited to make a difference right away and be handed huge projects and asked to help make decisions that directly impact business.

There might also be an expectation of receiving a raise or promotion within a year or two, but that likely will not happen—so be prepared. Don’t become discouraged. Just understand you have a lot of learning, growing, mistakes, wins, proving yourself to accomplish before you start making the difference you want. Being patient doesn’t mean being passive, it means understanding that a career is built over time.

And Don't Forget to Negotiate

When you've settled into your job and you're ready to ask for a raise, it can be a pretty tricky tightrope to walk. Luckily Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.