What We Wish We Knew Then: 7 EO Members Share Advice for Graduates

It’s graduation season for many, which makes this a perfect time to experience-share with the next generation of adults entering the workforce and maybe joining your company. Have you ever written a graduation address in your head—perhaps even delivered part of it to your own kids or employees?

We asked EO members what lessons they wished they had known when they graduated and joined the working world. Here’s what they shared. What would you add?

Unless you have the next greatest billion-dollar idea, plan your career out for four or five years. Aim to spend a minimum of two years at a small business and also at a Fortune 500 company. You’ll learn what is great and what is the worst about being in a company of that size, whether it’s the flexibility to make immediate changes and see impact or learn operational skills and project management. These two experiences will illuminate the type of work environment and opportunities best suited for your desired life and lifestyle.”
― Adam Levy, EO New York, founder and CEO, Alcohol Professor

You don’t need to know what you want to be the minute you graduate. There’s so much pressure to know what we want to be when we ‘grow up,’ but we are constantly growing up and becoming better versions of ourselves. I didn’t find myself in my career until my 30s, but every step of my journey led to what I am today. Don’t be afraid to fail. Each mistake is a life lesson and will make you better and stronger.”
― Stacy Goldberg, EO Detroit, founder and CEO, Savorfull

Here’s what I share with my children, prospective employees and graduates:
• Experience is becoming more valuable than education, because education has become fluid and on-demand. So get moving and start experiencing as soon as possible.
• The quickest way to get on your feet is to get off the couch.
• Get to know yourself and your personality traits so that you can be strategic about the types of work environments and careers to pursue and select the most suitable opportunity.
• Speaking from experience, it is more important to feel like a million bucks than to have it.
• Spend summers doing internships—as many as possible—to experience different environments until you find what feels right for you.
• Pay it forward: Encourage those who are younger to start thinking about the future long before their graduation date.”
― Vlad Molchadski, EO Dallas, founder and CEO, BizTraffic.com

Let people underestimate you. Why? Because it provides the opportunity to prove them wrong. In my first US job, I made minimum wage, didn’t speak English very well and my manager severely underestimated me. She once asked if I knew how to use a calculator. It was insulting, and I could have reacted negatively. Instead, I proceeded to go above and beyond to prove my value as an employee. To this day, people still underestimate me, especially as a woman and a minority. But I work that to my advantage by surprising and impressing people with what I’m capable of.”
― Kate Hancock, EO Los Angeles, founder and CEO, OC Facial Center

“I wish I had known that actions and initiatives that would catapult me to a more senior role or raise weren’t always the best contribution I could give or the best choice for the client. You have to learn to listen to your gut: Am I doing this to get a promotion or because it’s best for the team and client? Creating real value and making an impact is what will realize your career potential.”
― Christina Bellman, EO Colorado, founder and CEO, LEVO

“Networking is a cornerstone of building a business or advancing your career. But as an investor and recruiter, nothing scares me off more than the words ‘networking opportunity.’ I picture a feeding frenzy of people hiding their real motives under all that small talk. So, how do you build a network? Here are a few principles I’ve learned—through trial and lots of error—along the way:
1. Grow your circle from the inside out: Leveraging your existing network to get an intro shows you’ve already got common ground, and makes for a much better first impression than showing up out of the blue.
2. When it comes to business, don’t talk about business: There’s a fundamental misconception that business is about metrics—market size, sales, etc. Before any of that, it’s about trust.
3. Give, give and give some more: The cornerstone of any real relationship is generosity—giving without the expectation of return. The best business networks are no different in that regard.
4. It takes a lifetime: Above all, building a real network isn’t like collecting followers on social media. Networks are built on shared interests and values, and it often takes time to tease these out.”
― Manny Padda, president of EO Vancouver, founder and CEO, New Avenue Capital

“Find a job or intern for a company that you are passionate about and would love to be a part of. Work as hard as you can and meet as many people as you can. Work overtime, wow them and be memorable!”
― Jody Steinhauer, EO Toronto, founder of Engage and Change and president and chief bargain officer of Bargains Group and Kits for a Cause

“Winter is coming.”
— Jean-Michel Lebeau, EO Quebec, founder and CEO of Cortex

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