Sad college graduate
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Making enemies is no fun.

By Andy MacMillan
May 23, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What advice do you have for college graduates entering the workforce?” is written by Andy MacMillan, CEO of Act-On Software.

Nearly two million men and women are graduating from college this spring, and most will enter the workforce. As they do, pieces of advice from commencement speakers, relatives, and others will be fresh in their minds: Look professional. Be creative. Manage your time well.

These are great tips, but they barely scratch the surface of the emotional and behavioral tools young professionals need to successfully navigate the challenging, complex, and sometimes scary business world. The faster you learn these lessons of the working world, the better off you’ll be.

Don’t try to beat your teammates

Many early career professionals are naturally competitive and measure success in terms of how well they are performing versus their peers. Who can blame them when promotions, raises, and other rewards are on the line?

But as a CEO, there’s nothing I hate more than picking up a vibe that employees are in a contest with each other. When I hire or hand out new assignments, I’m just as interested in a person’s ability to plug well into a team as I am in their skills and experience. For me, it’s like building a football team: I don’t look for players who can outshine others wearing the same uniform, but those who make the overall team better.

Don’t be a pain

Develop an acute internal radar to monitor how you present yourself. There are many different ways to irritate your boss or teammates, sometimes without even realizing you’re doing it.

For example, your boss isn’t going to like if you complain to them about some challenge in your job without first imagining and recommending a solution. You also don’t want to toss out a bunch of ideas to sound smart in meetings without thinking through how they could be executed or who would be responsible for them. And don’t talk about how they did things at your old company, whether good or bad. Talking about your former job is like telling your new girlfriend about your ex. Instead, treat your previous experience as a helpful perspective to be shared with the group when appropriate.

Don’t focus only on the money

Three times in my career, I’ve accepted less money for a new job because it was a better opportunity in the long run. In one case, the lesser-paying job included plenty of international travel, which excited me at the time. In another, the lower-paying job afforded me a new career direction in product management, which better met my broader goals. Don’t let 10% or 15% more money in your early twenties color your career path over the next three or four decades.

Don’t shy from challenges

The best employees in any company are often those who take on challenges that others shy away from—and then help fix them. Easy jobs are nice, but it’s the hard ones that show what employees are really made of. The people who take advantage of these opportunities usually tapped for bigger roles down the line.

So go to the intimidating meetings nobody wants to attend and propose solutions to problems that come up. Take on some of the troublesome projects others turn their noses up at.

Starting a new job can be intimidating. But by following these tips, you can make a great first impression on your employer right out of college.

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