To be a new graduate
The end of graduation season brings the beginning of "new job advice" season. Not everyone will be pulled aside at a graduation party to hear someone else whisper just one word in their ear (like "plastics"). A lot of that advice will instead circulate on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, where quality control leaves something to be desired.
■ One exhibit in the Bad Job Advice Hall of Fame was entered by a venture capitalist by the name of Jordan Kong: "Unpopular opinion: the best thing young people can do early in their careers is to work on the weekends."
■ She's right: That advice is and deserves to be unpopular. Not because it challenges people to do something they don't want to do but should. It deserves to be unpopular because it's bad advice, and not just because it's a recipe for an unbalanced life and psychological burnout (though surely it is that).
■ "Work on weekends" suggests that quantity of time spent on the clock is more important than the quality of that time. That alone makes it unsound advice. Some people certainly might benefit from putting in many extra hours, if those are going to be quality hours of high-value, high-productivity work. But that isn't usually the case for someone just entering the workforce.
■ Despite the confidence with which many a recent graduate may enter the working world, the newly-minted graduate is rarely more than a malleable piece of clay, needing to be formed. The new worker is rarely like a new machine that can and should be operated at full speed fresh out of the crate. (And, even at that, most machinery needs a breaking-in period.) Instead, the new worker is a vessel that needs to be handled and filled thoughtfully in order to be of real use. As an alternative to "work on weekends", consider these four recommendations instead.
■ First: Attach yourself to a mentor who wants to pay it forward. This cannot be overstated. A good mentor -- someone who can act as a guide with the benefit of some advanced experience -- is the very best thing a young worker can find. There are many, many people who are willing to share their advice, their war stories, their habits, and most importantly their warnings with someone just starting out. The key is to find someone intent on doing so selflessly -- because they authentically and deeply believe that it's important to selflessly do something good for others.
■ There are false mentors out there -- people who just want to build an entourage, or who might share a nugget or two of advice without any real sustained interest in their proteges. But, though it may seem paradoxical, the relationships that begin with a mentor who gives most selflessly are the most likely to become mutualistic later on. Regrettably, there is no ideal field guide to finding a good mentor. One must look consciously, open-mindedly, and in good faith. (Fortunately, a lot of employers and industry organizations are learning to help facilitate these relationships. That's good for everyone.)
■ Second: Make your boss look good. There is a very good chance your boss will not be a suitable mentor. Your boss is, instead, the person whose success will tend to have the most immediate short-term effect on your own success. Look for ways to help the boss succeed in ways that make them look good to their own bosses and customers. Everyone has a boss of some sort -- even the self-employed, for whom the effective "boss" may be a key customer, a vital principal account, a community of voters, or a regulator. Making one's own boss look good (strictly within the bounds of ethical behavior) is one of the highest-return investments to make early in a career.
■ Third: Make yourself indispensable by being willing to learn everything. The new worker is lucky if he or she knows 10% of what they really need to know on the job. There's a reason doctors perform a residency -- schoolwork alone just isn't enough. Learn everything you can, especially by being willing to do the little jobs that crop up. A diploma is far less a certification about what you know than it is a signal that you know how to learn. Once you're on the job, you have to prove that piece of paper was more than just a signal. You do that by learning.
■ Fourth: Do honest work for honest pay. If you're being paid fairly, do the work you're expected to do. You are not an indentured servant, and unreasonable expectations (like, for instance, working excessive hours on nights and weekends) are a sign you're not dealing with an honest party at the other end of your employment contract. If you detect dishonesty, bad faith, or illegality in your work, the time to get out of it is right away. A company that tells its employees one thing and tells its investors, customers, or regulators another is a company that will take down your career if you stick around. Honesty goes far beyond avoiding just the lies that will get you in trouble.
■ If you're being paid to do work that is such a joy that you would do it without pay, that's a fine reason to punch the clock for more than just your contracted hours per week. But if you're in those shoes, you probably already know it. For everyone else, boundaries matter. And so does the measure of humility that comes with knowing that as a new worker, you have much to learn. The best thing a young person can do early in their career isn't to ruin their weekends: It's to make every effort to learn.