“Don’t Follow Your Passion” & other Career Advice for 20-somethings from Top CEOs

Good career advice is often difficult to find. As you start thinking about applying for summer internships and graduate schemes, the choices you make and the directions you take can be a little overwhelming. Whether your options seem endless, or you feel like you’re stuck on a certain career path, sometimes all you need is a little guidance. And guidance should be from the best possible sources – the people who have walked the same path, maybe stumbling, falling or making a new trail altogether. So we’ve gathered together some essential tips that are crucial to know in your 20s as you make those ever-important first moves as a graduate or new employee to the rest of your career.

1 – Alexa von Tobel: A little Guidance goes a long way

At the age of 32 Alexa von Tobel is an impressive woman. She founded a startup founder (which she later sold for $225 million). She’s also a New York Times bestselling author, and a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.

Her tip to young people starting in any industry?

“Get mentors,” she said in an interview. Why? Not only will they give you a foot in the door, if you show that you’re willing to listen and learn from them, they’ll invest energy and enthusiasm in your future.

“I think what you have to find is one or two or three people that are going to give it to you straight and push you harder,” she continues. “You have to be comfortable with people telling you that you’re not doing well.”

2 – Mark Cuban: Don’t follow your passion

Mark Cuban gave probably one of the most controversial pieces of advice (that now seems to be appearing everywhere):

“If you really want to know where you destiny lies, look at where you apply your time.Time is the most valuable asset you don’t own. You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don’t use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you.”

What does this mean? Where you invest yourself and your energy will be the best decider of your career pathway. He goes on the say if you dedicate yourself to something, you will become good at it, find pleasure in it: “Don’t follow your passions, follow your effort. It will lead you to your passions and to success, however you define it.”

3 – Pat Wardors: Say yes to the experience, not the job title

The senior vice president of LinkedIn spoke to Business Insider about the best advice for people just starting out with their careers. But it’s advice that’s applicable to anyone of any experience level.

“You will take lateral moves. You will change industries. What you’re looking for isn’t a title; it’s an experience and skill. Don’t fixate on the title or incremental improvements.”

This is worthwhile advice in a world where experience, such as internships or summer programmes, weigh just as heavily as a degree in most corporate industries. And though a title can lure you into accepting a certain role, if there’s just a surface amount of value for development, it might be better to turn it down for something else…

4- FACEBOOK’S SHERYL SANDBERG: FeaR Can make you grow

The COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg has an impressive CV from chief of staff for US Secretary of the Treasury to enabling Google and Facebook with the adds services they use today. More impressively she’s championed the global feminist LeanIn movement and written her own book on careers advice for women.

Her advice to young graduates?

“Believe you can do anything,” she said in an interview. “This is important for everyone and especially for women. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t have both a meaningful professional career and a fulfilling personal life. When you hear someone say you can’t do something, know that you can and start figuring out how. Ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I weren’t afraid?’

5 – J K Rowling: Failure is your friend

Not only has her novels seemed to shape the lives of a generation of readers all over the world (I certainly spent most of my childhood with my eyes glued to the pages of consecutive Harry Potter books), she also has a life story that’s just about as inspirational as it comes. On addressing Harvard graduates in 2008 Rowling shared the most valuable lesson from her not so enchanting formative years as a writer.

“I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless… By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

She’s come far from that point now. What she believes truly changed her was failure.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

6 – Melanie Whelan: DOn’t stress about your first job, just get to work

We are constantly told to follow our passion, to do what we love, but CEO of SoulCycle says the stress of finding that can halt a young grad’s progress altogether.

“Get a job and work hard,” she told The New York Times‘ Adam Bryant . “You are going to learn a ton in whatever that job is, so don’t stress too much about what it is or where it is. Just take a job and put your head down, work hard, raise your hand for anything anybody asks you to do.”


7 – Wayne Pacelle: focus on one thing

CEO and president of The Humane Society of the United States, advocates for not piling your plate full to an unmanageable amount.

“One of my former board members said, ‘Don’t try to do everything because that’s an impossible task, and no one will notice anything that you do because you’re spread too thin.’ So he said to concentrate on a few big things, make an impact and people will notice that impact.”

8 – GREG SCHOTT: Know who and what you’re working for

Now this advice doesn’t intend to contradict the advice of “just start working,” but compliment it. CEO of MuleSoft gave an interview to the New York Times on the successes of his career. When asked what advice he would give to recent graduates, he answered:

“The first thing I’d say is that you should be spending as much time making decisions about your job as you did making a decision about the college you chose. And when you make those decisions, you need to really dig in. Candidates should be interviewing us every bit as much as we’re interviewing them. But I’m often surprised by how people haven’t really researched the company before they come in for interviews.”

Nevermind if you were not aware of the company before you applied for the job, by the time your write a cover letter to apply you should have a basic understanding of who they are and what they do. By the time you reach the point of interview – you should know all about them. The point of this advice is that a company’s culture, its values, and its goals will (for the duration of the period of time you’re with them) become your own. And will inevitably shape your future, so you want to be sure before you invest yourself in someone else’s plans that it is a good fit.

9 – Helena Foulkes: Have direction, but be flexible to change

CVS Caremark’s executive vice president and chief healthcare strategy officer has not only an impressive work CV, but has many personal achievements to challenge the most adventurous of us (running with the bulls anyone?). What kind of path did she follow from being a young grad?

“Be focused, yet flexible. It’s really important from a career perspective to have a plan, to know what you want, to understand what you’re good at – and that’s all the focus part. I think it’s also equally important to be flexible because sometimes opportunities come along that are not planned for, or that make you nervous or that make you uncomfortable, and those can often be the most interesting decisions that a person makes.”

Ready to take your first steps into a new career? Check out some of the great internships we have on offer over at InternAvenue.com!


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