Playing it Safe is Risky

In my continuing conversations with new graduates, I’ve encountered a lot of anxiety this graduation season, not only about getting a job in this recession-battered economy, but getting “the right job.” 

While it is important to build a good career foundation, several new MBA graduates that I’ve encountered seem to think that “the right job” is one in which they sit on the right hand of the CEO and work on long-term strategy until they’re promoted in 18 months to be VP Business Development.  Nice work if you can get it–but not realistic.  Certainly some graduates will land consulting positions with McKinsey or a junior investment banker position with Goldman Sachs, but an academic degree in business doesn’t guarantee immediate prestige and success. 

What does constitute the path to success?  Here’s what I tell those impressionable minds who ask my advice in finding business, and particularly marketing jobs.  Start working for a small company where the approach is a multi-disciplinary trial-by-fire, and where you actually get to make mistakes and have an impact; or to go work for a large company in a training program where you become versed in a variety of areas before deciding what you want to be when you grow up.  Even those with entrepreneurial tendencies can learn a lot of business and marketing principles on someone else’s payroll before launching their own ventures.

There is tremendous value in being under the radar while trying on different jobs for size.  And there’ s great value in learning what you don’t want to be when you grow up.   

One woman I spoke to agreed that it would be ideal to work for a small enterprise, where she would actually get to see and do things that she would never be entrusted with in a medium or large firm. Then she complained “but those companies don’t interview on campus.”  

No, those companies often don’t know they even need fresh, young minds eager to do a variety of tasks that aren’t confined to a job description. You have to be creative in finding a position or molding one into existence. 

It takes work, it takes self determination, and it takes creativity and introspection (among other things) to find your perfect job. The result is that you have developed a career and life path that fits your needs and arms you with all the basic tools that you’ll need moving forward.  

Instead, most graduates take a job from a company that interviewed on campus and follow a career path dictated by the HR department who holds corporate needs far above employee desires.  

Playing it safe is risky—you just don’t know it yet.

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