Tips for New Graduates: How to Start Your Professional Life

This time of year is full of graduation ceremonies, resume writing and job searches.  It seems everyone is looking for good advice for those just starting a new career.

I recently asked Robert Dilenschneider
  for his advice for those just starting a professional career.  Robert is the founder and Chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm headquartered in New York City. He is the author of many books, including the best-selling Power and Influence and the newly-released The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life.

 

Find the Right Culture

 

Most job seekers think, “I just want to get a job anywhere” but you point out that finding the right cultural fit is important.  Why is it important to know the culture of the organization you are potentially joining?

The cultural environment of a workplace can be critically important.  If the core beliefs, value systems, and behavior patterns of many of the people one works alongside of differ perceptibly from yours, you will never feel at home, be able to perform at your highest level, and move upward in the organization.  That is just a realistic fact of workplace life.  Taking a job “anywhere” can upend one’s career track significantly.

The Critical First Years of Your Professional LifeWhen you are outside looking in, reading the recruiting materials and looking at the website, how do you figure out the culture?

Figuring out a firm’s culture from the outside may not be easy.  Cultural climate and identity have to be experienced directly.  But asking the right questions of a future employer, or of anyone you may know now working at a particular company, could be very helpful.

Let’s talk about the boss. You say, “Every day when you go into work, you want to determine — quickly — where the match is between your bosses’ goals, strengths, and weaknesses and yours.”  What is a “match” and how do you find it?  How do you create a good relationship and the right fit?

Again, verbal exchanges with your boss or manager are essential.  But colleagues, who’ve been working at a specific job longer than you, can probably be a font of valuable information about the person or persons one reports to — their likes and dislikes and, most importantly, their on-the-job objectives.

 

Work the Grapevine

 

Working the grapevine is not something that most of us learn in school. Why is this so important?

How to Create a Winning Business Culture

This is a guest post by Sandra Mills. Sandra specializes in covering management topics that are relevant in business and healthcare. She has managed both large and small projects on a number of occasions. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+.

When you’re trying to grow a successful business, attitude is often more important than specific skills and experience.  Someone who is eager to learn can easily be trained to meet your business’s needs, but someone who will only do the minimum to collect a paycheck will never help your business grow. Here are 6 ways to build a winning culture that will drive success.

 

1. Set clear goals

Employees who are eager to please can’t improve if they don’t know how you’d like them to improve. Broad statements such as, “Get better,” or, “Increase profits,” don’t provide a clear direction for them to follow.  A specific goal such as, “increase sales by 5%,” gives your employees a visible target to shoot for.  Once that goal is set, they’re more likely to know exactly what needs to be done to reach it.  Even if they don’t, they’ll at least know where to start to get there.

 

2. Make sure goals are reasonable

The goals you set can’t be too high or too low.  If they’re too low, they’ll be easily attainable and will create a culture of complacency instead of one of growth.  If they’re too high, employees might initially be motivated but then quickly realize they may never get there.  When that happens, morale will drop, productivity may return to or drop below previous levels, and future goals will likely be ignored.  Encourage employees to write down goals to stay focused. SMART goal planning (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely) can keep goals challenging but reasonable.  Encouraging goals to be written down will keep them measurable and in focus as well.

 

3. Don’t lose sight of the big picture

The best employees still need a strong leader in order to function well within a company. When you’re setting your goals, always think about where you want your company to be in five or ten years.  For example, sacrificing quality may increase profit margins now but may also lead to customers who leave and never want to come back.  Try to make all decisions from the top down.  Come up with a true vision for your company, the main ways to achieve it, and then set specific steps employees can take to get there.

 

4. Promote responsibility

Leading The Internal Talent Wars

The War for Talent

Every day there is a war for talent.  When the economy is roaring, the war gets a lot of attention.  Human Resource departments will circulate reports about the hot market.  Reporters jump into the fray with articles warning executives about the market.  Managers quickly realize that the market is hot, not only because of the articles, but also because recruiters start calling more often.

“A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.” Johann Wolfgan von Goethe

 

No company wants to see the best people leave for other opportunities no matter what the economy is like.

Winning the talent war is a complex goal combining leadership, culture, opportunity and other intangibles.

The war for talent happens every day, in every economy, and inside of every organization.  It doesn’t just happen when the economy is expanding, nor in the hot sectors like technology.  It rages on everywhere, in every organization, continuously.

Instead of looking at companies battling for talent, look at it from a different perspective.  Consider the talent wars raging INSIDE the organization.

Step back from it all, and be on the alert inside of your company:

 

Watch the leaders who attract talent.

 

Yes, leaders who attract outside candidates are worthwhile to watch.  More interesting is to see if a leader attracts talent from within the company.  That means that the manager has created a unique environment, a culture that is worth watching.

 

Watch the leaders who send the talent.

 

Some managers are especially good at sending leaders.  This means the person or group may be especially good at developing next generation leaders.  As a result, the manager ends up with raving fans throughout the organization.  Study this person’s methods and replicate the success.  Leadership is not about direct control but about influence.  This manager’s influence is likely growing faster than others.

Treating Employees Like Associates

This is a guest post by J.D. “Dave” Power III,
 Founder of J.D. Power and Associates. Dave is the subject of a new book  POWER: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History.

Empower Others

In 1982, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman profiled a number of successful companies in their book In Search of Excellence. One section profiled two companies that had done well by valuing employees: Hewlett Packard, founded in 1939, and Walmart, founded in 1962.

My company, J.D. Power and Associates, was more than a dozen years old by the time the book came out, but I remember thinking how similar my approach to managing people was to that of Sam Walton, Bill Hewlett, and Dave Packard. Like Walton, I called my employees “associates” — something I was so committed to that I included them in the company name alongside my own.  And like Hewlett and Packard, I saw the empowerment of individuals as the best way for the whole organization to achieve success.

 

The empowerment of individuals is the best way for the organization to achieve success. –JD Power

 

Peters and Waterman tracked down the sources of HP and Walmart’s management philosophies: Sam Walton had learned about working with people at J.C. Penney and modeled many of his company’s core values on that culture. For Hewlett and Packard, it was lessons learned by working with government offices and for other electronics companies that taught them what not to do.

Treat Employees Like Associates

For me, the foundation of my philosophy for how to treat people — central to my management style — came from observations of what to do and not to do, and those observations started early.

I have always been a student of why people behave the way they do. This goes back to my family, my dad and his explanations to me, and to school. I think I learned a lot in grade school and college about why people do what they do and to have a respect for what they’re doing.

My father, a high school English teacher, was always giving me advice that proved invaluable in running a company. The path he took in his life was the furthest thing from business, but he had a keen sense of the way the world worked and very intelligent insights about people. While I was still in school he told me, “When you’re in charge of people, don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.”

My first opportunity to put this advice to use was in the Coast Guard.  As an officer stationed on an icebreaker, I was in a position to manage crewmembers from every state in the union and of different races and economic backgrounds.  Many of these men, working as enginemen or boatswains or in the officer mess deck, were just out of high school or were crusty career enlisted men with little patience for young officers.  I made it a point to treat them all with respect and, above all, to talk with and listen to them.  I felt that some other officers, especially the ring-knockers who had come out of the academy, relied far too much on the number of stripes they had to bolster their authority — and I also saw the pitfalls of doing so.  The officers who did not listen to the crew often found it difficult to achieve their goals.  And examples of this behavior went all the way to the top, to the captain in place when I began my first deployment.

This captain created conditions for the crew to misbehave and then came down hard on these young men when they took advantage of the opportunity.  But his gravest mistake, in my view, was an unwillingness to listen to the thoughts of the people who were subordinate to him.

The Outs and Ins of Employee Loyalty

What’s In and What’s Out?

The era of employees signing up to work at a single company for their entire adult lives has long been over.  The importance of differentiating and branding yourself has never been more important.  The best employees have options. They are always on a recruiter’s radar. They often have a resume ready. If your best hope of retaining them is a counteroffer, then you have already lost the war. Consider these ideas if you want to increase your employee retention.

OUT

Helping employees only with their jobs and specific skills to improve productivity.

IN

Helping employees with their lives, which recognizes them as individuals who have needs outside of work.

OUT

Keeping employees at arm’s length and in a strict business relationship. Getting too close clouds your judgment.

IN

Taking the time to know them. Ignore the old advice and become friends. Employees are more likely to be loyal to someone considered a friend.

OUT

Telling employees that promotions are rare, that Jane is never going to retire and to “forget it,” that they will be blocked from transferring elsewhere.

IN

Brainstorming various ways to boost earnings, potential and career options to move within a company.

OUT

Employees nodding their heads like parrots at everything the boss says.

IN

Constructive disagreement, polite dissent, and compromise.

Employee Loyalty

OUT

The rulebook. Everything has a strict procedure and no room for individual deviations or decisions.