Like countless college students before them, the class of 2014 has little idea what to expect when they enter the working world.
"Whether you know exactly where you're heading or feel a bit lost," writes Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in "Lean In For Graduates," the latest edition of her popular book, "everyone has this in common: you're all in for big surprises."
College graduates will leave the safe, structured world of higher education and enter a fiercely competitive job market, instantly going from the top of the food chain to the bottom. When they land a job, they enter a strange new world of office politics, power jockeying, and hidden agendas.
To give young people a head start, Business Insider polled some of the world's most successful people to find out what they wish they had known before they graduated.
A few common themes: Take risks, stay focused, don't underestimate the power of relationships, and expect the unexpected.
"In college, just before I embarked on a career as a writer, I wish I had known that there would be no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work.
"I wish I could go back and tell myself, in my thick Greek accent: 'Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging, and renewing yourself.' That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout, and exhaustion."
Scott Adams, creator of syndicated comic Dilbert and author of " How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big " :
"I would tell my young self to keep open as many options as possible because the future is wildly unpredictable. The best way to improve your options is to continually learn as much as you can in fields that are complementary to your main interests. It also helps your odds if you stay networked with as many influential people as you can. "
Kay Krill, president and CEO of ANN Inc.:
"The advice I would have given to my college self and any young person entering the workforce today would be to always be authentic and true to yourself and your beliefs. Do not get sidetracked with advice from others that your gut tells you is wrong. By doing this, you will have the clarity of mind to always do the right thing for the business and for yourself. "
Mark Cuban, billionaire entrepreneur and investor:
"I wish that I had known it was just a job and not a mission to make my employer money. I thought I could truly impact the profits of the company — that my ideas were as good on my first day as the most senior executive. I should have been patient and tried to fit in and develop a possible career.
"But I didn't. I was a horrible employee. As it turns out, being bored and deciding to leave after nine months wasn't a bad decision. So I guess the real response is that I'm glad I didn't know it even though I should have. If I had known that, I might still be there…"
Denise Morrison, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company:
"If I could give my younger self career advice, it would be this: Don't wait for doors to open. Open them yourself by being persistent and thinking strategically about your career. Plan your career destination, develop a personal mission statement, and build relationships with sponsors and mentors.
"And above all, network, because networking is working. Your ability will only take you so far. Your relationships will take you the rest of the way."
"I wish I'd read Warren Buffett's early annual letters. There are so many gems that apply broadly to business and life. I'll paraphrase my favorites:
- Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.
- To be successful, you can get a lot of things wrong, as long as you get a few critical things right.
- Invest [your time and money] as though you have a single card with only five to 10 hole punches allowed.
Whether you're playing on Wall Street or Main Street, I think his wisdom is an incredible asset."
"When I was in college, I wish I would have known that you need to be more flexible with work life. You will have situations, bosses, and decisions that you cannot predict, and nothing turns out the way you thought it would. That's OK! Let things happen, and open yourself to new opportunities."
"As a college student, I never knew that entrepreneurship was a career solution to employment, nor did I consider an entrepreneurial approach to career management. Like most students, I thought that the ideal career path was to work your way up at a big company and then retire, and boy was I wrong.
"Through the years, I realized that the only way you can truly get ahead is by being accountable, networking constantly, and putting yourself out there. I realized that you need to think of a career as a collection of experiences along a journey and leverage everything you can to propel yourself forward."
Kat Cole, president of Cinnabon:
"What I wish I would have known is that everything will change and eventually work out in your career when you follow your purpose and passion. Don't get too caught up in the 'plan' that you have.
"As a mentor once shared with me, especially when you are young, each career move and choice you make won't be your last, and you can always course correct, so don't waste too much time overanalyzing the next few steps. Take a risk, be the best at the job that you can be, help others along the way, and the next right thing will present itself."
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