After 20 years at work, first in the corporate world and then building my own business, I began to think back on when I was 20 years old. A sophomore — recall that the root of the word is “wise fool” — I thought I knew a few things about what awaited me in the world. Nothing beats experience, though. Midway through a successful career, with several professional peaks and valleys, here is what I would have advised that young Bentley student when she was halfway through her college education.
While You're at College
Your GPA matters for your first job. While most professionals don’t talk about their GPA once they are in the workforce, it is one of the few data points potential employers will have to compare you to other candidates for your first job. Strive to get it above a 3.0 to put yourself in the running.
Get an internship. This is built into the curriculum at most schools, but if it’s not mandated you should do it on your own — preferably something related to your major. It is one of the best “professional” work experiences most graduates will have on their resume. It is important to show initiative and interest in your chosen field.
Participate in a campus organization. There are hundreds of options at every college to get involved with an activity. Choose something you are passionate about, but also look at it as an opportunity for you to hone your skills and shine to a potential employer. It’s even better to serve in a leadership role or start your own group. Employers like to see involvement and responsibility.
Once Your Start Working
Understand how your role fits in the big picture. Always ask questions. Talk to other departments and learn what they do with the information you send them. Know your company’s long term goals and how your job supports them. If you’re not in a client facing role, try to get some exposure to client accounts so you can understand their perspective.
Get up from your desk. Working hard is important, but getting up from your desk is what will get you ahead in your career. Know your manager, peers, and employees. Join a professional organization for networking purposes as well as professional growth (those could be the same organization or two different groups). Attend events within your industry and cross-industry, and make networking a regular part of your job. Keep your head up to see what is going on around you in the organization.
Know your allies and your enemies. Another reason to keep your head up — to use a hockey analogy — is to make sure you don’t get checked into the boards. Politics isn’t just in politics; it is everywhere. Understand people’s motivations and how they can help — or hurt — your career. Find a good mentor to help you navigate through the unwritten rules of your organization and to understand where the power lies.
Build strong relationships with your clients. Never forget the clients pay your salary. Go above and beyond when you have the opportunity — it helps your company and it helps you get on the radar inside your organization and with your client. That is not to say the customer is always right — some of my best customer relationships have come when I had disagreements with them. The key is to be honest and calm. Explain WHY their request is not the right approach for them. If there is an issue, tell them what went wrong and what steps you have put in place to make sure it will not happen again. They will respect you, and you will build yourself a solid reputation.
Debbie Millin (Bentley '92) has more than 20 years of experience running operations in a variety of industries, and is the founder and president of UpperLevel Solutions, offering part-time and interim executive operational support. She is active in the Bentley Executive Club, The Boston Club, The Harvard Club of Boston, and serves on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics of Massachusetts.