6 Lessons for New College Graduates

Disruptive change seems daunting. Embrace what makes you human to get ahead.

New graduates are entering a business environment unlike anything the world has ever seen — a disruptive landscape where technological breakthroughs change the way we live, work and play seemingly every day.

Billions of people connected by smart phones with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge plug into limitless possibilities with the tap of a button.

And we’re just scratching the surface of where innovations in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things and quantum computing will take us.

But what does it all mean for those just starting their professional careers?

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Learn new skills and technologies to stay ahead of where the world is heading.

Most important, I’d argue, is that new members of the global workforce reinvent themselves several times during the course of their careers — learning new skills and technologies to stay ahead of where the world is heading.

For graduates, this new business environment doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, today’s students now have a unique opportunity to leverage one of their most valuable qualities: being human.

What makes you human?

A few years ago, I was on a flight to Shenzhen when I came across an article in the Financial Times titled, “What Employers Want from MBA Students — and What They Don’t.”

The article shared insights on what skills employers are looking for in new recruits. To my surprise, specialized data and analytical skills did not top the list.

Instead, the article explained that employers are now looking for candidates who possess a variety of soft skills, including the ability to work with different groups of people and prioritize and solve complex problems.

To be clear, hard skills like coding are still important in today’s business world. But it’s clear that relying on those skills alone isn’t enough.

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Businesses need creativity, compassion, curiosity and adaptability — skills that are uniquely human.

Some (human) lessons

Businesses need creativity, compassion, curiosity and adaptability — skills that are uniquely human.

I’d encourage students around the world to think about how their soft skills can help advance tomorrow’s workforce and how they can use those skills to complement today’s ubiquitous technologies.

For new graduates (and really anyone looking to take the next step in their professional journey), here are six lessons to ensure you take advantage of what makes you human:

  Choose the right fit.

Above everything else, find the company that matches your core values and beliefs — and you just may get as lucky as me.

A shared culture is what gets everyone moving in the same direction, toward the same goals. It builds common values and makes the whole stronger than the sum of its parts.

  Find a mentor.

In life, you can’t go it alone. Who will you lean on in times of need in your career?

A great mentor will help expand your knowledge and skills, while providing you battle-tested lessons along the way.

    Have grit.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines grit as “the firmness of character, an indomitable spirit.”

To me, grit means waking up each morning, looking in the mirror and deciding not to give up. Be committed and treat your job with respect.

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Accept your role in failure, and let it accelerate your career rather than hold you back.

  Learn from failure.

When you fail — and trust me, at some point, you will — you need to understand that nothing is a better teacher than failure. You must be willing to accept your role in failure, and you need to let it accelerate your career rather than hold you back.

  Embrace servant leadership.

At UPS, we encourage our leaders to embrace “servant leadership,” which emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy and the ethical use of power.

The team isn’t working to serve the leader, the leader is working to serve the team.

  Have no regrets.  

The days are certainly long, but the years fly by. Enjoy your career, and never look back with regrets.

This article was adapted from a 2017 presentation given by Jim Barber at the University of South Carolina’s Darla School of Business.

Editor’s Note: It’s Graduation Week on Longitudes. With many college students set to take the plunge into the “real world,” we’ve put together a series of commentaries from senior UPS leaders aimed at making the transition a little easier. Even if you’re not a new graduate, these words of wisdom can help shape your professional journey — or maybe even change how you look at this fast-moving world.

Read UPS CEO David Abney’s advice to graduates here and CMO Kevin Warren’s insights for young workers here.

Visit Jim Barber's Linkedin profile page.
Jim Barber is Chief Operating Officer at UPS.

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