To 2023 College Graduates:
Congratulations! Graduating from an institution of higher education is a great accomplishment. What words of encouragement or advice can I share with you at this point to help position you for success?
Typical commencement speakers try to find a way to inspire graduates. They encourage students to pursue their passion, make a difference in the world, and other less than helpful suggestions. While noble, these pursuits won’t make it easier to pay yeshiva tuition, a mortgage, or afford a Jewish lifestyle. This advice is also typically given by people who are already successful and rich who, at some point along their journey, lost touch with the actual hurdles facing today’s new workforce entrants.
What graduates really need to hear as they embark on their life and career is practical advice. Since I am a money guy, and not a life coach, I will focus on the career aspect. One of the biggest factors for successful career growth is understanding how to build your “human capital.” “What is human capital and why should I care?” you ask. Good question. Human capital consists of the knowledge and skills that people invest in and accumulate throughout their lives, enabling them to realize their potential and position them for financial success.
The information I am about to share won’t tug at your heart strings or inspire you to change the world. It is, however, invaluable for setting yourself apart from most of the other two million individuals who also received their bachelor’s degree this year. If you embark on your career with this knowledge, it will undoubtedly make certain aspects of your life much easier.
Here are seven thoughts that will increase your human capital and help you with the next phase of life:
1) Find a career that is practical: As I mentioned, pursuing your passion is generally not practical advice. I’m passionate about eating kakosh cake and going on road trips. Unfortunately, neither of those things will help me pay my bills. Your passions are best pursued as hobbies and not as a means of supporting your family. The proper way to choose a career is to first understand the lifestyle you want to live. If you want to live in L.A. or Long Island, have six children, go away for all the chagim, and have a second home in Israel, then a career as a part time dog walker may not be practical.
I’m not suggesting that every person needs an extravagant lifestyle or that most people should consider a career as an investment banker. I am just pointing out that your career of choice should be able to support the lifestyle that you want. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t understand that your career directly impacts your lifestyle.
2) Find a career that plays to your natural abilities: Every person brings certain natural abilities to the table. Some of you are very analytical, others are great with people, some are great writers, coders, orators, and more. There are many skills that are valued in the workforce. The key is finding a career that places an emphasis on the skills you have to offer. You may be interested in becoming a physician, but if you’re bad at school and become woozy around blood, you are starting with a huge handicap relative to the many others who pursue careers in medicine every year.
During my senior year of college, I was unable to secure an interview for the many jobs to which I was applying. One night I had an epiphany, that in retrospect seemed so obvious. I needed to change course and only apply to jobs that cater to my natural strengths. Shifting my approach led to a flood of interviews and, subsequently, many attractive opportunities. Many people apply for jobs that are aspirational or pursue careers for parental approval. This is silly. Instead, make a list of things that you are good at, identify the corresponding jobs that value those traits, and you will increase your probability of success.
3) Find a career that you don’t hate: Here is something that should not be as controversial as it sounds: You don’t need to love your job. You just need to not hate it. This doesn’t seem glamorous, but being realistic about what you can stomach doing every day for four decades that will also earn you a sufficient wage is a sensible strategy.
At the very start of one’s career, there may need to be some trial and error. That is fine. However, the sooner you can select an industry that is bearable to you, the sooner you can start working towards becoming proficient in that area and ultimately enhancing your earning potential.
4) Obtain the proper advanced education, credentials, and certifications: The first three tips are important initial steps so you can find a career to invest in to build your human capital. Once you do that, the next step is to acquire the proper foundational knowledge to be good at your job. This can come in many forms, including on the job training, additional schooling, or other types of certifications.
This may be a tough pill to swallow, but most people finish a four-year college degree without acquiring any real-world skills. It may be unpopular to tell new graduates that academia is not the real world (unless you’re pursuing a career in academia) and you need to develop skills that someone will pay you for. An employer may hire someone based on their future potential and natural abilities. However, if you can demonstrate your willingness to invest in yourself and your career, you may have more opportunities compared to others who are less motivated.
It’s also worth pointing out that getting additional designations just to have more letters after your name is ill-advised. It’s important to understand what advanced designations and education are valued in your line of work and only pursue what is necessary. Going to school just for the sake of going to school is not a good use of time, effort, and money.
5) Stick with it! Avoid jumping around frequently to other opportunities. After the first few years of your career, when you are still deciding on a path to take, you need to settle on an industry and plan to stick with it for the long-term. Constantly moving around is a big red flag professionally and may ruin your career momentum. The decision to stick with a field will make you an invaluable resource to colleagues, clients, and allow you to develop a reputation of being skilled in your profession.
Sticking with something is easier said than done. After all, the grass is always greener in another job. The reality is every career has its pros and cons that are not always apparent to the outside observer. You will have speed bumps along your way to success, but they are usually temporary. The ability to persevere through them will usually position you for more opportunities, responsibilities, and higher earnings in the future.
6) Play the long game: Never make a short-term business decision at the expense of long-term success. This advice may come in many forms, whether it’s trying to reach a near term goal, sales quota, or anything else. Success is developed by playing the long game, developing long-lasting relationships, establishing trust, and creating a stellar reputation. This takes decades to build but will pay enormous dividends in any line of work. Honesty, trustworthiness, and doing what’s best for your client, should be valued above all else and allow you to have a career you are proud of. The short-term accolades are just distractions and should be treated as such.
7) Hang up your own shingle: At some point in your professional life, you may come to the realization that you can’t reach your full potential as part of a larger organization. After years working for The Man, accumulating your human capital of skills, experience, and relationships, if you have the entrepreneurial drive, then hang up your own shingle.
Starting your own business is not for everybody. In fact, I would say that it’s not for most people. However, for those who have what it takes and the desire, it is the best way to reach your maximum earnings and professional potential. As a business owner, you set the vision of your firm, select your clients, and build something that you may be able to sell for a multiple of your company revenue at a future date. From a lifestyle perspective, after the initial challenges of getting up and running, owning a business will allow you to have more control over your schedule and life. You don’t report to any supervisor. You are the boss, so you make the rules for how you want to run your business and live your life. At some point down the road, many of you will come to the realization that this freedom is the ultimate goal that everybody wants to achieve. Starting your own enterprise is one way to do that.
Graduates, I wish you much success in life, business, and all your future endeavors. I want to reiterate that this is just the beginning of your journey. The race is long, and, in the end, it is only against yourself. Spending the time and money today to invest in your decisions, education, training, values, and building your human capital will set the trajectory for the rest of your life. Plan accordingly!
Wishing all 2023 graduates much hatzlacha!