11 executives from big-name companies share their best career advice for the class of 2021 as graduates search for jobs and venture into the new frontier of hybrid work

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The class of 2021 is graduating into a rapidly changing work environment.

As new college grads enter the workforce, they’ll have to contend with hybrid work and build relationships with their new colleagues through a computer screen.

The good news is that employers are hiring 7.2% more college graduates this year than they did in 2020, a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed. This signals growth in a positive direction, though, the association found, hiring rates still have not returned to the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019.

To help new graduates, Insider asked 11 executives from companies such as IBM, ThirdLove, and Alibaba for their best advice for recent graduates entering the job market.

Wayne Berger, the chief executive officer of North America and Latin America at the commercial real-estate firm IWG, advised graduates to keep an open mind.

"The graduating class of 2021 is entering the workforce under extremely unique circumstances. While they may have been prepping throughout their college careers for a traditional work environment, clearly that notion has been flipped on its head. More organizations are moving toward a hybrid work environment, and newly minted grads may need to adapt to onboarding remotely and settling into a workweek where they aren’t always among their colleagues in person."

"My advice for those entering the workforce is to do so with an open mind, some patience, and awareness that they might have to get creative to forge new connections virtually. Also, when working remotely, it’s important to let your personality shine through, but also ensure you’re showing up in a professional setting, whether that’s in a home office or remote workspace. It can be challenging to show full potential via a screen, so grads should prepare to be proactive in the opportunities they raise their hands for, seeking out colleagues to bond with and establishing a strong balance between work and personal life."

John Caplan, Alibaba’s president of North America and Europe, said job applicants should spend time listening.

"When I think back on what advice I would give my younger self, I always wish I would have talked less and listened more. I would extend that same advice to newly minted grads, especially as they begin the job-interview process during a new work environment."

"Over the course of my career, I have interviewed thousands of people, and now more than ever, it’s important to differentiate yourself from the rest of the virtual crowd. The interviews that stand out are not from the candidates that spend time telling me how much they can do or how great they would be at the job. It is the applicants who do so gracefully, spend time listening, and then tell an interesting and honest story about themselves — alongside accomplishments, employers want to hear what interests you, what your side hustle is, what adventures you have taken to learn empathy and understanding."

"The world can change on a moment’s notice — the business we do, the technology we use — but how we connect with each other, how we empathize, and how we listen will never change."

Thasunda Duckett, the CEO of the financial-services firm TIAA, encouraged new graduates to own their story.

"Embrace your authenticity. Know that your voice is necessary and required. Believe in your story. Own your story. When you own your story, your boldest, super-dope self shines through."

Bob Eckel, the president and CEO of the biometrics-software company Aware, said recent grads should understand the cultures at the companies they’re applying to.

"First and foremost, follow your heart and do something that drives and interests you. Even if the money may be a little less than hoped, or it’s not the desired position or title, that will change. If you follow your passions, you will eventually succeed."

"Discover and understand the culture of the company you’re interested in. I truly believe a good company culture with strong cultural beliefs that are embraced by employees can make a huge difference in your success and long-term happiness. We at Aware have a culture built on peer-to-peer recognition and success, and while this method might not be for everyone, it helps foster a sense of community and collaboration that our employees welcome and appreciate."

Kelly Grier, the US chair and managing partner at EY, said it’s important to be intentional about building relationships virtually.

"Unlike previous graduates, you are likely joining the workforce virtually, at least initially, and that will require your intentionality in building relationships and taking advantage of mentorship and coaching to learn the new job and be accretive to the company’s culture."

"Seek out companies and leaders who are compassionate, support your well-being, encourage you to ask for help, and inspire you with their purpose. When you’re physically and mentally healthy and inspired, you will find yourself naturally becoming more resilient, contributing more effectively — and impactfully — which is beneficial to your career, your employer, and our society at large."

"Take the time to listen, proactively check in on your colleagues, and intentionally seek out diverse perspectives. Use your passion to advance equity and create impact, while holding true to your idealism and fervor for meaningful change."

David Henshall, the CEO of the software company Citrix, told new graduates not to think of their career as linear.

"My advice would be: Let your curiosity lead you. Careers are no longer linear. There is no one single path to success. And where you start may not even exist in a few years with how rapidly things are changing with technology and business models. If you constantly push yourself to be curious about what’s new, what’s next, and where you can put your talents to solve real problems — no matter how rapidly changing those problems may be — you will have built-in resiliency and agility in your career that helps you not only thrive in an uncertain world but lead others along the way."

Jeff Jones, the CEO of the tax-preparation company H&R Block, said new workers should build their reputation as indispensable members of the team.

"Whenever I speak with college students and recent graduates, I remind them that most people will work in some capacity for 40 to 50 years, and the keys to long-term relevance are curiosity, learning, and patience. A first job is highly unlikely to be the last, so learn as much as possible, raise your hand for the hardest problems, and start building your reputation as an indispensable member of the team."

Arvind Krishna, the chairman and CEO of IBM, said recent grads should remain curious.

"Graduating is a big achievement — under any circumstances. And this year’s college class is graduating at a time when the world seems like it has been turned upside down. That said, I have immense confidence in this generation’s ability to take on the challenges of our day and build a better future. And as they go on to forge their own paths, there are two simple pieces of advice I would share with them."

"My first piece of advice is this: Be curious. Be insatiably curious. Why? Because curiosity is sacred. Learning how to learn is the most important skill a professional can acquire. I would even go as far as to say that the most significant factor in career success is not intellect, degrees, or even experience, but the ability to learn — from others and from one’s own mistakes. Second — and this is equally important — be persistent. Any project, invention, or innovation takes grit and trial and error."

"History is a bone pile of brilliant people and ideas that failed to take off. In fact, we remember many of the world’s brightest innovators and boldest leaders not necessarily because they were the first to conceive an idea, but because they were the only ones that worked hard enough to turn those ideas into a practical reality. Curiosity and grit. I hope that these lessons will be useful for new graduates as they move on to the next chapter of their journey in life."

Bob Segert, the chairman and CEO of the healthcare company Athenahealth, said new workers should focus on being accountable.

"Early in my career, a CEO told me that only action changes a business, and those words still resonate with me today. Entering your first job, you’ll quickly learn that there are many talented individuals. Some are great at coming up with new ideas and potential approaches at a conceptual level, and others have internal drive and motivation to turn those ideas into action."

"My biggest piece of advice, and something that I’ve learned over the years, is that taking action is only half of the equation. The other half is accountability. Sometimes people define accountability as ‘being able to take the heat when things go wrong,’ but I think of accountability as ‘doing whatever it takes to make something a success.’ An accountable worker is one who drives forward with a true ownership mindset and is able to look around corners, anticipate potential problems, and align the right resources against a task."

 

Vivek Sharma, the CEO and founder of the employee education provider InStride, said graduates should always continue learning.

"It’s important for new graduates to realize that graduating does not mean the end of learning. In fact, it’s only the beginning. As we have seen over the past year, the pandemic has accelerated the need for new skill sets in the workplace. While those entering the workforce may have technical acumen, our research shows more and more companies are seeking employees who have ‘soft skills,’ in leadership, DE&I initiatives, and peer-to-peer communications."

"As graduates venture into the working world, it’s my hope that they do so with a proactive mindset to develop new and ever-changing skill sets needed to succeed. They also should be applying to companies that understand this need and are willing to assist them in acquiring additional education and invest in their passion for lifelong learning."

Heidi Zak, the founder and CEO of the underwear company ThirdLove, advised recent graduates to start networking early.

"Earlier in my career, I didn’t think about my network or building it, and I wish I would have valued it more. Today, my network consists of former colleagues and bosses, many of the friends I met in undergrad and grad school, other CEOs or founders, my professional business groups like YPO, and more. Each of these relationships offers a different value, at various moments, both professionally and personally."

"Keep in mind that your network is every single person you meet, every person you interact with. Always be your best self, as you never know when your paths may cross again. And build a diverse network as it relates to experience, background, industry, and so on. You’ll find that you lean on different people at different points in time."

Rebecca Knight, Shana Lebowitz and Aman Kidwai May 19, 2021 at 07:03PM

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