5 Mistakes College Grads Make When Starting Careers


GolinHarris CEO Fred Cook is author of the new book Improvise, an offbeat career guide for new college graduates. Below, he spells out five of the most common mistakes young job seekers make when beginning their careers.

This June, 3.2 million US students will graduate from college, and 85 percent will move back home while 22 percent won’t be able to get a job. Of those who are lucky enough to find employment, more than half will work as waitresses and baristas. If you’re hoping to succeed in this tough job market, you need to improvise.

Plus: The author shares one little-known secret to acing a job interview

Mistake #1: Staying in your comfort zone
People entering the business world today are a commodity. They’ve taken the same courses, read the same books, and watched the same movies. Meanwhile, companies like mine are desperately seeking fresh minds with new ideas to help them navigate massive cultural and technological changes. You need to expose yourself.

Growing up in southern Indiana, I led the middle-class life of Beaver Cleaver, until I was kicked off the high school tennis team. Then my real education began. I replaced high school with a bowling alley that featured 15 pool tables, where a faculty of dropouts and derelicts, with names like Red Dog, Baby Pod, and Fat Beckham, introduced me to a new curriculum of hustling, drinking, smoking, cruising, and fighting.

Think of your life as a big magazine rack. When you’re standing in front of it deciding what to choose, resist the normal impulse to reach for People or Cosmopolitan. Instead, grab a copy of Inked, Guns and Ammo, or Bass Fisherman. Apply the same approach to movies, books, and people. Experimenting with your life boosts your creativity and your confidence.

Mistake #2: Being intimidated by senior management
Knocking on a captain’s door opened a new world for me. While my contemporaries were graduating from college, I talked my way into a job as a cabin boy on a Norwegian tanker bound for Asian destinations I’d never imagined. In your career, you will encounter “captains” that can transport you to unexpected places. You just have to talk to them.

Senior executives are intimidating to those just starting out. But they’re the ones who can have a real impact on your career. Stalk them in the hallways. Corner them at events. Drill them with smart questions. Seek their help. If you want to be a captain tomorrow, you should start by asking one today.

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