The president of the liberal arts college where I spent more than a decade of my career used to love graduation season. He loved the pomp and ceremony; he loved the tradition; and he loved the idea of sending fresh, young minds, full of initiative and optimism, out into the world. But mostly, he loved that the graduation ceremony was called “Commencement.” Something about referring to the conclusion of one’s studies as “a commencement” tickled him. After all, to commence is to begin, so a commencement ought to be a beginning, not an end.
But we know the truth, don’t we? It’s actually a mixture of both.
More often than not, students are doing much more in school than getting a formal education. They’re working at a campus or part-time job, completing internships, playing sports, making friends, forming clubs. Some are starting families; others are starting businesses. Long before their “commencement,” they’ve already entered the real world, doing meaningful work within and beyond the classroom, exploring their interests, and pursuing their passions.
And so, to our newest graduates and to all those in the early stages of their careers, let me say: We see you. We know you’ve been hustling, working hard not just to find the job you want or create the career you envision, but to become the person you’re meant to be and to build the future you deserve.
As you consider your next move, look for these four signs to make sure you land with an organization that helps you on the journey.
There’s a reward for creative initiative.
As an English major in the early aughts with visions of being a fiction editor in New York, I never imagined that I would earn a living as a social media manager. Social media didn’t exist when I graduated from college. But, while attending a marketing conference in 2007, shortly after landing that job at the college, I realized that the school needed a social presence. And I was curious about this new world of social media. So, I lobbied for the accounts and pitched ideas to get them started. To my surprise, my boss told me to “run with it,” and I spent the next 10 years building the college’s social presence as the voice of the institution online.
Moral of the story? Take initiative. Take it with both hands when you see a need that is aligned with your interests. And follow your instincts. Look for management that rewards your drive.
There’s freedom to fail.
You’re going to mess up. Everyone does. But ordering the wrong paper for a print job or overlooking an invoice for a vendor aren’t the kind of mistakes we’re talking about here.
Thomas Edison famously said about his mishaps, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Make mistakes born of innovative thinking, experimentation, and a willingness to test new methods and new ways of working. Do you have an idea for an email campaign? A web series? A podcast? When a company supports your efforts, even if they don’t all succeed, you can be confident you’ll get great opportunities to stretch your wings and develop your skills.
There’s an emphasis on work-life balance.
To do your best work, you need to live your best life. In the modern world of remote work and flex weeks, it may be easy to confuse benefits with balance. Look for a company that prioritizes not only your professional goals but your personal well-being. Though you may never land a job that meets every criterion on your benefits wish list, when your employer recognizes that what you do is about more than what you do at work, it will impact how you show up in all areas of your life.
There’s room to grow.
Ultimately, your work is just one aspect of who you are and what you have to offer. And no company should want their employees to remain stagnant—personally or professionally. Find an organization that champions your development and supports you learning new skills, seeking out coaches and mentors, and taking classes or other learning opportunities. Bonus points if you’re encouraged to share what you learn with others and contribute to their growth, as well as your own.
As a young professional, it can feel overwhelming to navigate the job market. I think it helps to imagine this stage of your career like your own professional “commencement” season. Celebrate those aspects of your work experience that may be concluding and look ahead with hope and anticipation for what’s on the horizon. This is, after all, a beginning.