Dear Graduates: Get Ready to Take Risks, Prove Your Passion, and Learn Fast
Many people spend their childhoods confidently answering the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When we respond, we do so unconstrained and driven by passion. We typically answer with creative or bold responses.
Funny thing is, once we “grow up,” that confidence and boldness typically fades.
Now that you have your diploma in hand, it’s time to take action. But how should you approach your transition from student to professional?
My advice as you enter the workforce is: It’s important to jump in with the same confidence you once had. Be fearless as you embark on your professional journey.
Seek Out Opportunities to Take Risks
The beginning of your career is the one time you can take risks and learn from them. Choose interesting and challenging options over “expected” jobs. You are at a stage where you have a fresh perspective on everything you do professionally, so challenge yourself.
When you do land that job, keep moving forward. Raise your hand for projects where you can have a visible impact on the business. Look for opportunities to take risks, and go for them. That uncomfortable feeling you get in your gut is a good sign you are stretching yourself.
Be Creative, Be Daring
In my very first job, I had a chance to land one of the largest deals of the year, but I encountered a big objection during the closing process. You see, the prospective customer told me I needed to demo the equipment in his office for their final evaluation.
“If I don’t get a demo machine here by tomorrow, I am going with your competitor – but if you do and it works, I’ll buy it from you,” the client said.
The problem was our hardware was quite large and contained fragile components. We used a third party to professionally deliver the equipment, which typically took two weeks.
I couldn’t wait. Solving this objection wasn’t going to be easy – so I got creative. I hired two college buddies and rented a big Hertz truck. I removed the large piece of equipment from the demo room and drove 35 miles down a bumpy highway to deliver it.
It wasn’t easy, but the risk paid off and we got the deal.
Oh yeah – I also learned that, sometimes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission!
Show Your Passion for a Career Opportunity
Don’t be afraid to go after the job you want, even if you feel on paper you are not entirely qualified. Show how your passion and confidence will more than compensate for any experience gaps.
Recognize also that if you are fully qualified for your next job, you may outgrow it very quickly.
Ultimately, all hiring managers want one thing: Talent that delivers results. Passion and confidence don’t show up on a resume, but they make all the difference in the interview. Be the total package.
I remember the first opportunity I had to really stretch my credentials. Finding a great opportunity, I pounded the hiring manager with phone calls and emails only to hear “not qualified.” I pressed for a more specific response, and the vice president of the group told me, “I’ve hired people from different industries, functional areas, or even business models and seen success, but I’ve never seen somebody try to do all three at the same time and pull it off.”
My response? I reached out my hand, shook his, and said, “Well then, let me be the first.” It was a big statement, but I trusted myself. In return, I got the job. While I may not have been the most qualified candidate, I was certainly the most passionate. You need to have passion to succeed.
As you enter the workforce, it’s easy to feel like you’re the least experienced person in the room. Put in place a plan to rapidly gain practical knowledge. It’s important to figure out what your colleagues are exceptional at and learn those skills from them. People are often receptive to helping you if you’re truly interested in learning what makes them successful in their respective areas. This is a great opportunity to start to build the well-known management skill of surrounding yourself with the smartest people you can find. This is your own “experiential rolodex!”
To get some practice leading, take advantage of opportunities to teach others who want to follow in your own footsteps. Whether it is interns or colleagues, pay it forward by sharing your knowledge and expertise.
Confidence is one of the most essential qualities needed to succeed, so kick off your career boldly. Ask questions. Use your lack of experience as a means to meet new people. Gain new skills. Learn everything you can from those around you.
Getting started in the workforce isn’t easy, but it can be really fun. Embrace the beginning of your journey with passion, and you’ll find your way.
Pat Bakey is president of SAP Industries at SAP.
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