Graduation season is here! This year’s commencement speakers have been offering a wide array of advice to capped and gowned 20-somethings across the country as they prepare to enter the professional workforce.
At Boston University, actor Uzo Aduba reflected that young people should overcome fear as they face new opportunities, believing as she does that fear is an artificial impediment that we create over time in our own minds. Mark Zuckerberg told Harvard grads that finding their purpose in their professional life wasn’t enough — and that instead they needed to create a world “where everyone has a sense of purpose.” And at NYU, Pharrell insisted that we be humble, but not too humble, in our first forays into the professional sphere — and that we should talk about our accomplishments and shun invisibility.
In the spirit of shunning invisibility, we’re casting light on some early lessons we learned during our first professional jobs — and sharing advice on what new hires should do, and what they definitely should not do, at their first professional job.
ANTONIO RUSEVSKI, CREATIVE DIRECTOR
“My first professional job was an international freight forwarder. I handled international shipments, in addition to preparing and processing customs and all kinds of other documentation.”
Worst advice: Be late.
Best advice: Commit yourself, give it your best, work hard and be of value to others. And don’t burn any bridges.
Embarrassing story: The company car got mangled by a truck, that was doing a wide turn, while I was operating it. Even though it was 100% the truck’s fault, I felt very embarrassed and guilty when I had to explain it to the boss.
MARY PULS, EVP MANAGING DIRECTOR
Description of first professional job: I worked at a retail brokerage as a sales assistant. I would put in stock trades for clients when the brokers went on looooonnnng martini lunches! Lots of trust going on there.
Best advice: A chart can be your friend (because you can make it mean almost anything!) Finding a way to tell a story, versus just giving information, can help you connect better with your audience.
Worst advice: Mold yourself to those around you and fit in.
Embarrassing Story: People used to actually dress up for work especially in the financial field. My friends and I used to wear little bow ties as our version of power dressing. I am grateful I ended up in a more creative area!
RON WOLOSHUN, CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Description of first professional job: Typesetter and Desktop Publishing Specialist — back when that was still a thing.
Best advice: Invest the time to connect and stay connected with the people who cross your path. People want to work with people they want to work with.
Worst advice: I once let a recruiter cajole me into wearing a suit and tie and slicking my hair back like Gordon Gekko — to interview for a creative role! — just because it was with a global consulting firm. I got the job, but I felt like I had to dig out of a hole in terms of being my authentic self at work. If you aren’t able to be yourself, you aren’t able to make your highest contribution.
Embarrassing Story: Once, long ago in the mists of time, a major print piece I was managing went to press while I was bedridden with flu. It was a 2-color piece, and the printer misread my directions and, instead of the nice, subtle blue I’d specced, they used a bright scarlet ink — BLOOD red, nothing subtle about it. It looked like the bleeding armadillo cake from Steel Magnolias.
JILL TRACY, PRESIDENT & CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER
Description of first professional job: I was an account executive at a PR firm in New Jersey. I wrote press releases and did a lot of special event planning and coordination.
Worst advice: Specialize, find a niche, and own it. If I had followed this advice we would have missed out on so many interesting opportunities, and probably gone out of business in a couple of years.
Best advice: Give people a reason to want you on their team. If they believe you can help them succeed, you’ve got an opening. From there, it’s figuring out how much you can make of it. But finding and making opportunities are the most important part.
Embarrassing Story: I am going to call upon one of the most memorable ad lines of all times as my way of pleading the 5th on this one: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
KATIE ROTTNER, SENIOR COPYWRITER
“My first ‘real’ job was at a tech start-up in the early 2000s. Amazingly, considering the economic climate at that time, this company still exists today. I was a staff writer there in its early days.”
Worst advice: Believe that you know everything there is to know about business, especially when you’re in your early 20s.
Best advice: If something doesn’t feel right to you, speak up.
Embarrassing story: I remember taking on a project on a timeline that was a little ridiculous, but I thought I could get it done anyway. I couldn’t, and I went to my boss (very nervously!) to ask if I could have more time. In speaking with him, I used the phrase “a perfect storm,” to describe all the factors that had occurred, leading to my need for an extension. He replied with: “Did you know ‘a perfect storm’ is the most overused phrase that people say today?” I left that meeting feeling pretty cool all around.
STEVE VEZERIS, VP – ACCOUNTING & ADMINISTRATION
“I worked at the Chessie System Railroad in Baltimore, as Assistant Manager of Business Forecasting.”
Worst advice: Be yourself.
Best advice: Always listen and know your audience before you speak.
Embarrassing story: I’ve suppressed all of these and they’re hidden deep in the recesses of my subconscious where they will eventually dissipate and return to the ground as stagnant qi, along with all of the other schmutz I’ve gathered in my life.