career decisions / career development

Career advice for new graduates from successful leaders

Graduating from university means the end of one big adventure and the start of an even bigger one. Once you’ve graduated, unless you decide to extend your education any further, it’s time to start your career, which can be a scary prospect, but there’s plenty of inspiration out there from people who have made a huge success out of their careers. Here are some quotes from business leaders that you can use to guide you through these exciting but challenging times so you can make the most of the opportunities that are out there for you.

“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx.

When you’ve just graduated from university, you’ve learned so much and if your course was a vocational one, you should feel ready to start your career but you’re still lacking a lot of the experience that you’ll gain when you’ve done the job for a while. That can be intimidating, but Sara Blakely’s advice is to make the most of your inexperience because it can actually help you to innovate and find different – and better – ways of doing things. 

“If you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against a wall and won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.” Jeff Bezos, President and founder of Amazon.

Being flexible when it comes to finding solutions to problems is one thing, but as a graduate you may also need to have that open-minded approach to finding your first job. You may have very firm ideas about where your degree will take you, but if the jobs market is competitive you could need to apply the same imagination and flexibility to your career options. Refusing to do so could mean missing out on a different solution that turns out to be the right one.

“You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” Sheryl Sandberg, founder of and COO of Facebook. 

As well as having an open mind you also need to have realistic expectations of what your first role might be. Even graduates rarely walk straight into a job where they are doing what they trained to do right away, so if there’s more cups of coffee to make than you might like, you still need to make your opportunity work for you. When Sheryl Sandberg joined Google’s ads team she made that work for her, expanding it from 4 people to over 4,000 and earning herself a big move to Facebook.

“Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to ask. I have been in the news many times just by calling on the news channel and asking them about featuring my business.” Lori Cheek, founder of Cheekd.

As a new graduate you need to find ways to make yourself stand out and one of those can be having the courage to just ask. You could spend months applying for jobs you’ve seen advertised and not get anywhere, whereas you could also find that simply calling up a company you want to work for can open a door that leads to great opportunities. The worst that can happen is that you get rejected but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

“In the last few years I’ve tried to push myself to not worry so much about my current abilities and focus more on the learning process.” Nicky Goulimis, co-founder of Nova Credit. 

When you get your first job after graduation you will inevitably come across situations you’re not familiar with, which can be scary but you will learn through both successes and failures and the most important thing is that you continue that learning process. This helps you to learn new skills and by showing a willingness to face different challenges you will impress colleagues and bosses alike.

“You should set goals beyond your reach, so you always have something to live for.” Ted Turner, founder of CNN.

At this stage in your career, your goals may seem beyond your reach but this one from media mogul Ted Turner is a perfect tip to carry you through your whole working life. No matter what you achieve – and he has certainly left his mark on the world – you should always continue to aim higher as this will keep you motivated.

“Always deliver more than expected.” Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

And finally, the ultimate career tip. Larry Page and Google have certainly delivered way more than could have been expected, turning a simple search engine into something that is part of almost everything we do in our lives. Not many people can hope to achieve that much but if you always over-deliver (and under-promise) you’ll go far in your career and the best time to start is as soon as you get started after university.

Careers site put together these tips and learnings from 15 successful founders. Follow these and you’ll be giving yourself the best chance to get off to a flying start in your career.

Paul Allen works for NeoMam Studios, creating content for, to help people succeed in their career search.

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