Sunday, June 2, 2019

Career Advice For New Grads

College graduation season is upon us and lots of new graduates are about to start their careers. As part of my job, I am heavily involved in campus recruiting for Finance jobs at my Fortune 500 employer. This gives me the opportunity to give a lot of advice and feedback to new and prospective candidates.  My advice has evolved over the years, but following it has served me well in corporate Finance. I am sharing it here for anyone who may benefit from it. So, in no particular order, here are some points of unsolicited career advice:
  1. From the outset of your career, live on a “college student budget” as long as possible. In college, I could live on $12-15k/year not counting tuition. When you all of the sudden start making $50k, $60k, or more, it will be tempting to immediately go out and buy a new car or rent a luxury condo. Technically you may be able to afford these things, but if you give in to every indulgence, you won’t be able to take advantage of the biggest tool you have in building wealth: your income.
    • Your life and goals will be different 3 years from today. The more you save between now and then, the more options you’ll have. Don’t be that person who goes into 6-figure debt for an MBA because you didn’t save anything in the years you work in between.
    • Don’t deprive yourself so much that you don’t enjoy life. Everything is a balance.
  2. Your personal brand is more important than anything that gets written up in performance reviews. When hiring managers want to know about you for potential promotions, they pick up the phone or shoot an e-mail to your boss. Rarely will anyone ever look at your performance reviews. Pay close attention to the way you may be perceived, especially to those individuals a few levels higher than you in the organization. But, no one likes a brown noser. Remember again the importance of balance.
  3. Find a mentor. This doesn’t have to be formal, but find someone higher in the organization that isn’t in your same reporting hierarchy than you can use to help navigate corporate culture and career. I’ve had several of these relationships in my career that have been helpful in receiving promotions and a >100% increase in pay over the past 6 years. I have found that most people are happy to help or mentor, but the mentee has to be the one showing the initiative to maintain the relationship. 
  4. Understand your organization’s career paths and pay standards. If you’re in an environment where you can ask for a raise any time, prove your worth and go get that money! If your employer is more old-school (like mine) and primarily gives corporate-wide pay increases annually or when an individual gets promoted, set your expectations appropriately. Hopefully you know somewhat the way your company operates prior to joining (we are very upfront about this). Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of, but also don’t get impatient and start asking for a raise after X months when you were told when you got hired that you’d be eligible for a raise after Y months. Expressing a sense of entitlement damages your brand which will hurt you much more in the long term.
  5. In some work environments, speed is valued over precision. In others, precision is more important. Learn the preference of your leadership and know that it may differ depending on the deliverable. As a financial advisor, getting a quick answer that was in the ballpark was usually adequate. In corporate finance I have had to retrain myself to focus on accuracy, and on being ok with analysis taking a little longer.
  6. They say that there is no such thing as a dumb question. Good questions show your interest in a topic, your desire to learn something at a deeper level. While you’re new you may be able to get away with asking questions about things you really should know already, but be careful asking the same question multiple times. If after a few months you are asking the same types of questions, you get a reputation for not paying attention. 
  7. If you work a lot with data, you may inherit some models or code that someone else built. While it’s ok to rely on someone elses work in this situation, you need to spend some time understanding how your models work to the point of being able to rebuild them. You’ll often find ways to improve them and will stave off future disaster, since you will ultimately be responsible to fix the models if they break.
As you get further along in your career, there are different things to pay attention to, like the importance of working at or being connected to headquarters. But get these foundational things nailed down in the first year on the job and you’ll have a great head start. 

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