Ten Commandments for Career Success

By Angela Myles Beechling   

Succeeding in the real world after graduation doesn’t require being in the right place at the right time, knowing the correct people or even having superior luck. You can achieve professional success without a miracle – as long as you follow some practical tips while launching your career. By obeying the 10 commandments below, you’ll develop positive work habits, philosophies and coping methods for your professional life.

X. Know thyself
Know what valuable strengths, skills and experiences you can offer employers. Make a list of the technical, managerial, organizational, interpersonal, communication and computer skills you’ve gained at school, work or volunteer jobs. An accurate assessment of your abilities will help you set realistic job-search goals. If you’re unsure how your experience translates, ask professors and advisers for assistance.
Also know what fields interest you. If your options seem limited, broaden your horizons by seeking advice and taking career tests at your school’s placement center. (Your state or local employment office or career center also may be helpful.) Talking to others about your goals, interests and experience will help you to know yourself better and create a suitable job-search plan.

Keep in mind, however, that a self-evaluation may lead you in a new career direction. Meg Travis, who earned a B.A. in music at Stanford University, originally expected to pursue a performance career. But when she did some administrative work after graduation, she was surprised to find she enjoyed – and was good at – finance and administration. Now she’s in the University of Michigan’s M.B.A. program, and plans to do finance work in higher-education administration afterward. By exploring your talents, interests and opportunities, you can develop new goals and gain success in unimaginable territory.

IX. Know thine industry
Know how you might fit into the fields that interest you. Investigate specific occupations by consulting your local library or career center for general information on interesting professions. Read relevant ads and job descriptions to determine employers’ needs and typical salary ranges. Determine the positions in your target field that are appropriate at this stage of your career and the competition for opportunities you want.

VIII.Thou shalt schmooze
Schmoozing, or networking, is an exchange of information that isn’t just for business people. You can network in supermarkets, gas stations, jazz clubs, parties and community, church or club meetings. Even if you’re shy, you can find a style of networking to suit your personality.
Your goal is to get to know professionals in jobs you dream of having and find out how they got there. Start by asking people you know well – family members, friends, professors and colleagues – who they know working in your target field(s). Call or write these new contacts and ask for a brief – perhaps 20-minute – meeting to learn more about their field, receive input on your job-search strategy and get names of other people to contact. Using this technique, you may also find out about unadvertised positions.

To make a good impression, be interesting and interested. If you pass along career and job information to contacts, chances are they’ll reciprocate. Send thank-you notes after the meeting and stay in touch. Young trumpet player James Knabe earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa and went on to Boston for further study and freelance work. Recently he called 10 music contractors he hadn’t heard from in a while; the result of those calls was two immediate well-paying freelance gigs.

It’s also wise to join professional organizations in your field. National and local associations exist for every industry imaginable, and many offer student discounts. These organizations typically publish newsletters and hold meetings and annual conferences, which are great ways to meet people and exchange information. To locate appropriate groups, check the Encyclopedia of Associations, a reference book available at most libraries.

VII. Research thine options
Kay Lee, an undergraduate music major in Boston, was considering going to law school. But to make sure this would be a smart path for her, she secured an internship with an entertainment law firm to gain hands-on experience. This helped her decide that law school was the right choice.

Information creates opportunities, so read trade journals and local newspapers to learn about industry news, trends and key players. Write to executives profiled in articles about your field. Express interest in the news story and their companies and request an informational interview. You just may have the ideas and skills they seek.

VI. Cultivate a good attitude
When interacting with hiring managers and networking contacts, be positive, resilient, flexible and professional. Be able to deal with rejection as well as acceptance and keep your ego in check. If you have a chip on your shoulder, are discouraged or feel depressed, find ways to improve your attitude before you schedule interviews. Otherwise, your true feelings will show through despite your best efforts – and hurt your professional image.

V. Think like an entrepreneur
Use your imagination and creativity when job hunting. Spend time brainstorming with friends and colleagues. Think broadly about industries and occupations that might need your services, since career opportunities may be available in unexpected places.
Take a lesson from musicians, the quintessential “multi-preneurs.” Their careers often involve performing with various groups; tutoring privately; teaching; recording, composing and arranging; and administering arts programs.

List the types of work you’d find stimulating and profitable. You may decide a varied schedule of part-time work would be more satisfying than a traditional full-time position. Or you may choose to form partnerships with friends or companies to better use your diverse skills, conserve resources and boost your creativity.

IV. Have a gimmick
Persuading employers to hire you is easier if you offer something they want that’s unique and exceptional. Revise your resume, focusing on the talents, skills and experience that make you stand out. Write a skills summary or professional profile – a 20-second “commercial” about yourself – that you can use in resumes and cover letters. In it, be crystal clear about what sets you apart from your competition in the field.

III. Respect thine interpersonal skills
Industries are small, relationship-driven worlds. Someone you snub today may be the person who won’t hire you tomorrow. So be a considerate, polite colleague and help create a healthy workplace community. Your thoughtfulness, optimism and enthusiasm will be remembered and returned.

Even if you’ve suffered disappointments, frustrations and emotionally difficult periods, avoid inflicting your personal difficulties on others. Get whatever help you need so you can be at ease with yourself and others. This will help you benefit from and appreciate your professional affiliations..

II. Set short- and long-term objectives
Goals are dreams with deadlines. Picture the job you want; this vision should keep you motivated during your job search. Then, establish short-term goals – for the week, month and year – to keep you progressing toward your ultimate objective. Don’t let your goals strangle you, though; keep them flexible enough so you can respond to changing markets and the range of opportunities that may come your way.

I. Feed thy soul
What do you find valuable and meaningful in your life? What keeps your spirit alive? Whether it’s spirituality, family relationships, the outdoors or a favorite hobby, fulfill these needs regularly. Don’t spend all your time, energy and emotions on your job search or career. Having a balanced life is critical to enjoying and moving forward in your professional career. Two colleagues in New England have different ways of renewing their energies; one raises orchids and organizes flower shows; another writes novels. We all need inspiration in our lives – make sure you’re getting yours.

— Ms. Beeching, director of the career-services center at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, has written a career guide for musicians.