New grads are entering one of the best job markets in recent history. With an unemployment rate at record lows, finding and securing a job won't be the tricky part. It's what happens after your start that will pose the biggest challenge.  

Let's just say it's going to be a cultural shift. In school, your lessons are mapped out, and your path is predetermined. You stick to the plan, and you're guaranteed to learn and progress.

When you enter the workforce, things change.

Here's why. 

Over the past decade or so, many organizations have focused on right-sizing their org charts and flattening their structure. This practice looks great on the bottom line and drives efficiency, but the byproduct of a leaner structure means added responsibilities--a lot of them. 

To help shoulder the weight, many organizations are investing in tools to automate repetitive tasks and administrative work, and they're relying heavily on middle management--aka, your boss. 

With machines managing tasks that used to help with the learning curve and your boss being bogged down with more work than they know what to do with, you will find yourself in many situations where you're going to have to manage yourself.

That was the greatest lesson I learned early in my career: 

You have to take ownership of your growth and development.

Many recent grads don't and they expect their managers to do it for them--often finding themselves disillusioned and disappointed. It's not personal--your boss just has a lot of things to manage including their own careers. 

The most successful grads understand this one thing--you have to be able to lead and act autonomously without authority. 

After recruiting and hiring recent grads for the past eight years, I've noticed that the most successful tend to do the following: 

Start networking immediately.

As a new employee, you should never eat alone. Make it a priority to meet others, share your work, and find potential collaborations. People give opportunities to those whom they know and trust. Work on building your own relationships, and you'll gain exposure to new career-defining projects. 

Learn everything they can about the business.

The more you know about the business, the more opportunities you'll have to get involved. At the beginning of our careers, the majority of us have no idea what to focus on, what our personal strengths are, and how to find meaningful work. The only way to identify those things is to create additional opportunities for yourself to learn, experiment, and to try new things. 

Find their own mentors.

The easiest way to navigate your career, find important work, and excel is to connect with those who've already accomplished those things. Many organizations have formalized programs that provide a vehicle to approach potential mentors. If not, take the initiative and reach out to those with whom you'd like to learn from. Most will be flattered and willing to share what they know. 

Don't wait for feedback.

Get into the habit of asking for feedback. Don't wait until your organization does a 360 or annual performance review. Try and grab as much real-time feedback as you can. Then, course correct and pivot until you've worked yourself into meaningful and impactful roles. 

Starting and excelling in your new job can be scary and ambiguous. The most important thing to remember is that you're the one responsible for your own success. Take control of your development, and you'll progress at a rate much faster than you would have waiting for your manager to do everything for you. 

Published on: May 28, 2019
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