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Parting Advice

Kyle McIntosh, 2:26 am ET

HALF OF THE COLLEGE students I taught last semester just graduated. A few are going on to graduate school, but most are starting accounting, finance or other business careers. For my classes with a heavy concentration of seniors, I reserve the last five minutes of the final class to give them a few career tips. In keeping with my overall teaching approach, I keep the message simple: Do what you enjoy.

Now, this isn’t the usual “follow your passion” pitch you hear in so many commencement addresses. In fact, I start by saying that most of us won’t follow our passion. Often, it isn’t practical to do so. Because we can’t all be passion-driven, we need to find ways to make our day-to-day work enjoyable. I encourage my graduates to find ways to incorporate things they enjoy into their career. There are two specific tips I share.

First, I recommend graduates use their skills to enter an industry that interests them. Many students have “dream” industries they’d like to work in, such as sports, not-for-profits and life sciences. But most judge it too difficult to land a job in these industries, so they apply to businesses that don’t excite them.

To be sure, graduates with technical majors—think accounting and information technology—may have an easier time getting their foot in the door of a preferred industry. But all graduates have skills, such as problem solving and communication, that are useful in any industry. If you have a genuine interest in an industry, I believe you should make putting your skills to work in that industry your focus. The fact is, if you’re working in your “dream” industry, chances are you’ll be more successful and more fulfilled.

Second, I encourage graduates to prioritize doing things they enjoy at work. These things might not be specifically related to your day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, they might include things like recruiting new employees from your alma mater, leading training sessions or working on special projects. It could even include organizing the company’s sports teams. Assuming you do these things well and they don’t detract from your core duties, you’ll be viewed favorably by your manager and your peers—and you’ll likely enjoy your job more.

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Edwin Belen
Edwin Belen
12 days ago

Better advice than what I received at graduation from my accounting professors. By just sharing, a few of those may remember you and when lost, may decide to give you a call and this is when the advice matters most.

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
12 days ago

Good suggestions! One problem college grads will have is convincing hiring manager of their skills and transferability to the job in question. I found many hiring managers were close minded to the potential of young people. They have tunnel vision looking for narrowly defined skills and degrees and ignore the wonderful potential many young people possess

Michael1
Michael1
11 days ago
Reply to  Jerry Pinkard

I think this is unfortunately true, but one bright spot is in hiring of junior military officers. Many employers recruiting from this group do so because they’re looking for the leadership, discipline, teamwork and other general skills and experience that have nothing to do with their degrees and specific job skills.

Jo Bo
Jo Bo
13 days ago

Having taught science majors for many years, I observed that “follow your passion” correlated with better college graduation rates. Had I shared any parting wisdom, it would have been to embrace whatever you, do no matter how small the task, and to learn to do it well — in life and at work. I don’t think most 20-somethings are ready to hear that, though. Many of the students I worked with would search for the perfect research topic, only to realize later that the process of science, and not the topic, was the most important thing that they would learn.

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