With graduation season upon us, influential people from around the world—politicians, writers, CEOs, celebrities—are ascending podiums to dispense sage advice to new graduates. And for most students turning a tassel in the coming weeks, joining the "real world" means starting their first real job—a job defined by a work landscape that is quite distinct from previous generations, and constantly changing.
So, who better to ask for advice around graduation than the experts on work: human resource pros? We asked HR leaders what they would say in a graduation speech for the Class of 2015. Graduates, as you embark on your careers, take note.
Build Your Own Brand
The notion of a 9-to-5, 40-year career is a thing of the past. Today, work is flexible and fluid. While workers have more independence and choice, these freedoms often come at the price of stability.
"Don't rely on organizations to offer you job security," says Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work. "Create your own job security by building up your personal brand—because in the future we will all be working for a portfolio of companies versus a single employer."
With the average young professional staying at one job for three years, it's likely that you'll gain experience at several different companies—and perhaps work for the same employer twice. "Boomerangs often make the best resources in an organization as they leave to gain new experience and bring it back to the organization," says Craig Fisher, Employer Brand Leader at CA Technologies. "Cultivate good relationships and exit gracefully, so that you can be a good boomerang."
The important thing to remember is to be flexible with your plans, shares Michael Housman, Chief Analytics Officer at Cornerstone OnDemand. "Although I've spent most of my working life in an office-based environment, I've found that more and more of my work has come in the form of freelance positions—like consulting and advising companies."
The Value of Passion
The argument of paycheck versus passion has always been part of the conversation on work—will you be happier making lots of money, or doing what you love? In our current "gig economy," following your passion may become the norm.
"Thanks to technology, we can now work anywhere we want," says Anne Loehr, speaker and writer on the future workplace, "Work will be tying itself to you, wherever you are, on every device, at any time. So make sure you find purposeful, meaningful work that matters to you and tie yourself to that first."
"Doing what you love is the future of work for your generation," echoes Lynda Spiegel, founder of Rising Star Resumes. "We baby boomers misspent our youth at employment in areas we were good at and could make money doing. Do what inspires you to get up and tackle it every morning, regardless of the salary. You'll be richer that way."
Learning Isn't Over—or Easy
Even though graduates will enter the workforce with a shiny diploma, they have a lot left to learn. "Always remember how much you don't know, play down what you do know, and listen to others who know things," advises Carol Anderson, Principal at Anderson Performance Partners.
John Boudreau and Ian Ziskin from USC's Center for Effective Organizations advise graduates to actively seek and share knowledge in four major ways: "1) Reach out: Learn and use disciplines outside of HR; 2) Venture out: Influence beyond your department, company and geography; 3) Seek out: Surface and express unpopular truths; and 4) Break out: Be transformational in your actions."
Suzanne Lucas, veteran blogger at Evil HR Lady, leaves no holds barred: "When you start on your new career understand two things. One: you don't have a clue what you are doing. Open your eyes and ears and pay attention to everything. Two: Work is hard. Do your best should always be your motto."
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