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The One Action That Makes or Breaks a Graduate's New Career

Maria Elena Duron, Paul White

This is the season for graduations. Typically, the graduate's focus is twofold: finishing what is needed to graduate, and then moving on to the next stage in life.


Life's pace around graduation can be frenetic due to myriad tasks that have to be completed: papers, projects, finals, current living arrangements and relationships that need to be tied up. Graduates (and sometimes, their families) get in a to-do list mentality. A self-focused approach to life -- "all the things I have to get done" -- is one possible result.

But it is equally important to take time to reflect on those individuals who have contributed to your success and thank them for their help. Obviously, this can include parents, grandparents and/or spouses. But, hopefully, there are also some instructors and faculty members who impacted your life -- inspiring you in a new direction, giving you the opportunity to work with and learn from them, or encouragement to persevere and believing in your ability to succeed. There may be others who provided practical support (the department's administrative assistants, or those in financial aid) that help you get through the obstacle course of earning a degree.

The probability that you will run out of time before graduation is high. But don't let that stop you from communicating appreciation -- remember: most faculty and staff are around after graduation. So you can stop by, give them a call or drop them a note. At a minimum, shoot them an email.

Besides being considerate, why is it important to say thanks? Because you will soon discover these individuals still can have significant influence in your life -- writing letters of recommendations, connecting you with others in your field or where you may be moving. And this connectedness can continue and be significant over several years (and even decades). People are far more willing to help someone when they feel that prior help was valued and appreciated.

Moving On

As you move on to the next stage of your life -- whether it is a job, graduate school or the unknown -- expressing appreciation to others can continue to impact your life direction. Finding a job (even if it is a survival job until you find a real one) typically requires lots of assistance these days. And the more people feel like you truly appreciate the advice or connection given, the more likely they are to go the extra mile for you -- to think about it a bit more, and take additional steps to help you.

As you interview for jobs and potentially finish up applications for graduate school or other training, you need people to write letters of recommendation or talk to potential employers on your behalf. Everyone is busy, but people will take the time to get that letter out, return a voice mail or reply to an email if they feel like you aren't using them or taking them for granted. Everyone wants to feel valued, regardless of their stage of life or career.

So make sure your friends, instructors and supervisors know that you truly appreciate their help. Be sure to send them an email, text or leave a voice mail when you find out they talked to your potential employer or they got that letter of recommendation out. If they don't hear anything from you, how likely are they to invest time and energy in you next time?

Value Your Connections

Remember, the lessons learned through years of life experience are an extremely valuable resource -- more than a lot of money. The knowledge, insights and wisdom your connections have can provide a solid launchpad for career success. More than words or gifts, some people appreciate being valued by being asked for advice and listened to. Spending quality time with those who have taught you is a great way to learn from them and show your authentic appreciation by listening to them.

Some questions that may be of value to you and that would also communicate the value you place on your professors, advisors, counselors and even teaching assistants include:

1. If you were in my position, what would you focus on first?

2. Given what you know now about this field or this industry, what advice would you give to me?

3. If you had the opportunity to go back and tell your younger self two helpful hints to make this transition into your first career job easier, what would they be?

Thanking them for sharing their insights is important. To take it one step further, sharing with them (by sending a quick note or email) when you take action on their advice and will be extremely meaningful to them. It is always nice to know that you have helped someone further -- and you never know how much they will impact the world as a result.

Paul White, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author, speaker and consultant who makes work relationships work. He is co-author, with Dr. Gary Chapman, of "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace" (2011), "Rising Above a Toxic Workplace" (2014) and "Sync or Swim" (2014). He blogs at AppreciationatWork.com.

Maria Elena Duron is a brand relationship trainer, national presenter, author and small business marketing coach specializing in helping individuals, teams, businesses and organizations apply the concepts of the book "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace" in their daily business and interactions with customers. She is editor-in-chief of the Personal Branding Blog.

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