Valuable Insights for Recent College Graduates from CEOs

Learn from experienced CEOs about embracing risk, authenticity, and networking for a successful career after college graduation.
Valuable Insights for Recent College Graduates | Amwork

The initial years of your professional journey can significantly shape your career. As my son, Chris, recently graduated from college and embarked on his first full-time job in human resources, it brought back memories of my own post-college days as an editorial assistant in a custom publishing division within a Detroit-area advertising agency. The knowledge I gained in school was invaluable, but it was the experiences and guidance from my first job and mentors that truly molded me.

Recognizing the wisdom that comes from hands-on experience, I connected with CEOs and business leaders to uncover the advice they wish they had received at the onset of their careers.

Embrace Risk-Taking

Kanuj Malhotra, the President of Digital Student Solutions at Barnes & Noble Education, reflects on his early career and emphasizes the importance of taking more chances and not fearing mistakes. According to him, “In product development, swift failures surpass prolonged mediocrity. Embracing the lessons learned from failures enables you to reassess your product, addressing previously overlooked areas. Such experiences cultivate better leadership, management, and product development skills, making you a more valuable asset to your organization.”

Authenticity is Key

CEO of Canada Goose, Dani Reiss, initially believed that being an extrovert was a prerequisite for effective leadership. However, he discovered the power of authenticity. “When I began public speaking and addressing my team, I felt compelled to emulate the motivational speakers often seen in the business world, but that wasn't me,” says Reiss. “It was only when a friend noted that I was a captivating speaker when I spoke authentically that I realized the significance of staying true to myself for effective leadership.”

Networking Matters

Laszlo Bock, the co-founder and CEO of Humu, a human resources software firm, stresses the importance of networking, even for introverted individuals. Bock advises, “If you have an opportunity to connect with more senior professionals, seize it. Treat relationship-building as an integral part of your job, particularly if you aren't fond of office politics or consider yourself introverted. While this may come naturally to some, it can be challenging for others. In academia, seeking advice from professors outside of class was foreign to me. Similarly, in consulting, mingling with senior partners felt uncomfortable. However, there are individuals less skilled than you who invest in these relationships and reap the benefits. Building and nurturing such connections are essential aspects of your professional journey.”

Exercise Patience

Ron Rudzin, CEO of Saatva, a home furnishings company, emphasizes the importance of resisting the pressure to rush towards success. He advises, “Avoid the temptation to prioritize speed over careful planning. Early in your career, the eagerness for rapid growth can lead you astray. Focus on making smart decisions rather than ego-driven choices. It's crucial to have patience and ensure that all your preparations are in order.”

Embrace Global Experience

Karen Fichuk, CEO of Randstad North America, a staffing and workforce solutions provider, wishes she had pursued global opportunities earlier in her career. She recalls her initial job as a staff accountant and her hesitance to seek advancement within the company. Fichuk urges young professionals not to limit themselves based on physical location. “In large organizations, diverse paths for career development and cross-border experience exist. Don't restrict your opportunities; instead, explore the possibilities beyond your immediate surroundings,” she advises.

Develop a strategy to accelerate your career growth

Victor Cho, CEO of Evite, an online invitation platform, draws from his experience at Microsoft to offer a multi-lever strategy for career acceleration. He emphasizes the importance of delivering consistent excellence in your current role, working under a manager who is progressing rapidly, and being part of a product or business that is on an upward trajectory. According to Cho, “Your performance, mentorship, and the trajectory of your chosen projects all contribute to career advancement.”

Embrace Flexibility

Beth Gerstein, CEO of Brilliant Earth, an ethically sourced jeweler, highlights the value of adaptability. She shares her own experience as a satellite communication engineer, where she initially resisted certain responsibilities. However, when she embraced flexibility and recognized the importance of her role, it opened up opportunities for growth. Gerstein advises, “Approach your work with an open mind, be adaptable, and show your willingness to contribute to the team. Flexibility and a strong work ethic can lead to additional opportunities in your career.”

Endurance, Not a Sprint

Tom Gozney, CEO of Roccbox and Gozney Ovens, shares his career journey, emphasizing that work doesn't necessarily get easier with time. Many professionals find themselves locked in a relentless sprint, working long hours in anticipation of a finish line that may never appear. Gozney advises prioritizing what truly matters in both work and personal life, as the cumulative effect of focused effort reaps the most significant rewards over time.

Value in Every Job

Bill Nash, CEO of CarMax, reflects on his early career in a job he didn't love. He wishes he had known that even in such situations, valuable lessons can be learned. Nash suggests focusing on acquiring knowledge by observing and listening, regardless of whether the job aligns with your dream career. Every role offers opportunities for growth and skill development.

Embrace Imperfection

Avishai Abrahami, CEO of, recalls his first job on a hacker team and the valuable insights it provided. He highlights the importance of not letting perfectionism hinder progress. Abrahami learned that there isn't always a perfect solution to every problem; sometimes, you need to dive in and take action. Surrounding oneself with talented individuals and being driven by passion can fuel creativity and success.

The Art of Listening

Ian Siegel, CEO of ZipRecruiter, emphasizes the significance of effective listening in the workplace. Siegel recommends a practical technique called the “two-second rule,” which involves waiting for two seconds before responding in important conversations. This approach allows your brain to process information and signals that you are genuinely engaged and attentive.

Accumulate Experiences

Eugena Delman, CEO of Ava James NYC, wishes she had been more patient early in her career. She underscores the value of learning from every job experience, as each role contributes to your skillset and can lead to unexpected opportunities. Delman's journey from various roles ultimately equipped her with the skills and experiences needed to launch her own startup.

Express Your Passion

Bill Peña, CEO of Simply Business US, recounts his early career as an online creative designer and the importance of effectively conveying passion for your work. He realized that demonstrating technical skills alone was insufficient. Peña advises that communicating one's enthusiasm is equally crucial. Early in his career, he appeared calm and collected, which, while reflecting confidence, could be misinterpreted as indifference. Peña learned that connecting with colleagues and openly discussing one's work can foster collaboration and understanding.

Focus on What You Can Control

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, reflects on his career and cautions against excessive concern over factors beyond one's control. He emphasizes that competition, market dynamics, and economic conditions are variables we cannot dictate. Instead, Fried encourages professionals to direct their energy toward aspects they can influence. By concentrating on the manageable elements of their work, individuals can drive positive outcomes and mitigate unnecessary stress.

These insights from accomplished CEOs serve as valuable advice for individuals entering the professional world. Effective communication of passion and a focus on controllable factors can contribute significantly to a successful and fulfilling career.

Olivia Martinez

Olivia Martinez


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