Monthly Archives: November 2008

New Grad’s & Career Management in Down Times

I wrote a post this summer on career management for new grads, talking about weighing going to a bigco or the startup route.   I’ve had some people reaching out, especially recently, with questions specifically orienting towards what to do wrt career management in a crazy market environment like these. 

Given that all hell is breaking loose, what’s someone to do?  Head to a safe harbor–go back to school, take a safe job that pays well but that you don’t really like?  Etc.  Here I’d like to provide some advice. 

First, caveats.  This is focused specifically at new college or grad school grads who are thinking through their moves.  This advice targets people without massive non-financial obligations, i.e., children.  Having children and the responsibilities that they entail would invalidate my advice. 

Think Big.  With that out of the way, let me start with one of my favorite all time quotes:

“Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work…”

Daniel Hudson Burnham

In my experience speaking with people about career management at any time — not just new grads — there is a surprising lack of ‘big plans.’  Often (90% in my estimation) of conversations I have drive towards how to get such and such a promotion or whether to continue working for a certain manager who one finds stifling.  This stuff is interesting, but it’s ultimately trivial in the absence of a big ambitious plan.

Same advice I tend to give start-ups, I give anyone who wants to build a high performing career.  Aim high. 

The downturn is beyond your control, don’t sacrifice a big plan to adjust to that.  Yes, there is a downturn, and it will make things more difficult.  At the same time, if you really have thought about building a high performance career, and you really want to drive towards something you enjoy and excel at, then the downturn is mostly irrelevant.  You have a direction and an idea that you wish to pursue and you should do it with the full force and energy that you can bring to it.  On the margin, you may adjust your approach slightly, take potentially a slightly more conservative step.  But in general stay the course.

Make the most of your options, you won’t ever have as many as you have now.  As a new grad, you’ve gotten yourself a degree and you may have entered the work force or grad school.  You probably face what feels like immense pressure to pay back loans.   Also seemingly important is the social pressure of getting a job, getting on the path towards respectability. 

While both are important, I think there’s a far more important aspect to being a new grad, namely you have maximum options.  No matter what you studied in school, if you realize you are called in a different direction, then its all possible.  You never took a cs class and you want to be a programmer?  You took pre-law, and then decide you want to be a doctor? Go back and do it. 

After college, I was an actor for two years in New York.  Loved it, but also over time realized that I had a different plan in business.  The shift was hard–I had to take out massive loans, etc.–but it was absolutely the right thing. 

The key, looking back, was that looking at the shift at the time seemed huge and nearly impossible.  It was hard, but in retrospect, I was lucky I did it.  Three keys.  First, sticking to a plan that I thought worked for me.  Second, it was key to remember that the debt and the social pressure against changing was nothing next to pursuing the plan that made sense for me.  Third, in reality, I had no encumbrances really–I had no children, nothing tying me to anything. 

Talk to people, build your network.  No one succeeds alone.  The last piece of advice I’d have is that building a network for friends, mentors, and coaches who you trust and who can support, advise and help you.  This is a must-do.  Spend time on this, reach out and seek ideas, get feedback, and listen.


Good luck. 


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