As a second year MBA student, I served as a LinkedIn Ambassador at my university.
My primary goal in this position: help college students learn how to build a LinkedIn profile, develop networking skills, and leverage LinkedIn to find a great job. I also guest lectured several career development courses, which led to countless hours of one-on-one mentoring.
While working with students, I routinely thought back to my time as an undergrad. I remember studying hard to get good grades, but when it came time to launch my career… I was clueless.
In fact, my first internship interview was a total failure. When asked about a time I showed initiative, I responded with a story about how I “courageously” asked out a girl who was out of my league. Needless to say, I didn’t get the internship.
As a college student, I didn’t know how to build a network or find a job, but thankfully several peers and mentors provided critical guidance. I eventually found a great internship which turned into a full-time offer. I thought my future was set.
Turns out, I was wrong.
Within a year of graduation I had already worked at three companies. At one, I endured the largest bankruptcy in history; at another, I was caught up in a lay-off. Like many young professionals who had seen their parents thrive at one or two companies in their lifetime (my dad worked at just two in 34 years), I planned on one thing, but events and circumstances outside of my control forced me to pivot.
Not My Father’s Business World
I knew the business world would be different from my father’s, but I didn’t realize how quickly, and drastically, things would change for my generation. The Millennial generation—individuals born between the early 1980s and early 2000s—are working in a very different business environment than our parents.
We can no longer rely on the stability of a linear career path within one company.
After many conversations with students, I felt inspired to write a career development book. My goal was to share an intimate and transparent account of the highs and lows I’ve experienced in my young career. But more importantly, I sought to capture the lessons I learned in the process, including:
- How to network and build professional relationships
- How to develop a professional competitive advantage
- How to adapt in an ever-changing workplace
Networking and Building Professional Relationships
Networking is no longer about swapping business cards or inviting people you’ve never met to connect on LinkedIn.
The key purpose of networking today? Build meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships.
The more you focus on helping others, the more they’ll be willing to help you. Building professional relationships requires an investment of time and effort. It may not come naturally, but networking is a skill, and like other skills, it can be improved through consistent practice.
Developing a Professional Competitive Advantage
In today’s business world you must act as the CEO of your career. You must take control of your professional future. To be competitive it’s critical to understand three things:
- What you’re good at doing
- What you want to do
- What people will pay you to do
Understanding only one or two of these is not enough. You need all three to develop a true competitive advantage!
Adapting to an Ever-Changing Workplace
One of my undergraduate professors had the following quote pinned to his door:
“It is not the strongest who survives, nor the most intelligent who survives. It is the one who is most adaptable to change.”
I remember walking by his office and wondering why he put it there. But after experiencing unforeseen setbacks during the first few years of my career, it all made sense. Change is the only constant in the business world, and while it’s important to have a career plan, it’s even more important to be adaptable.
These lessons are critical for anyone seeking to launch a meaningful career. What worked for our parents’ generation won’t work for us. To be successful in the modern workplace, we must take a proactive approach to career management.
Every day. Employed or not.
About the Author: Nathan Tanner is a Sr. HR Generalist at LinkedIn and the author of Not Your Parents’ Workplace: Critical Lessons for Interns and Young Professionals. He recently graduated from BYU with an MBA. Follow Nathan on Twitter! Here is a short video that tells a bit more of Nathan’s story: