It’s not the time to play it safe.
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 Beth Ford, chief operating officer at Land O’Lakes.
Graduating from college is a big adjustment. It’s the time in your life when you have to trade in your insulated, academic environment for the real world. It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what your future holds. I remember having all of these feelings. My advice is to embrace and use them for motivation.
Here are four other lessons I’ve learned from my time in the working world:
Take a field job
Now is the time to take a field job and not a role at headquarters. It might be less glamorous, but you will gain a wealth of firsthand insights and knowledge about business and customers at the ground level. This education will be invaluable as your career progresses.
At the beginning of my career, I worked as a night warehouse leader and ran a tanker and barge dock—roles you certainly don’t dream about at graduation. Through each of these jobs, though, I learned about myself as a manager and leader, and gained skills in how to motivate both myself and my teams through challenging and sometimes boring situations. Now, in a senior leadership role, I still use these skills to connect the dots across business units for the overall benefit of the company.
Build your brain, not your titles
Be open to lateral moves and opportunities that allow you to keep learning. Don’t just focus on your area of expertise or education. Being intellectually curious might offer opportunities that you previously hadn’t considered.
Over the years, I have worked across six seemingly different industries, including energy, consumer packaged goods, publishing, chemicals, food production, and agribusiness. My opportunities in each of these sectors came from my own desire to try working in new fields.
Whether you like it or not, throughout your career you will have bumps and failures. You’ll learn something from each of them. Treat each setback as a learning experience. Don’t decide to step off the career path you’re on just because you feel like you’re not good enough. Embrace whatever position you’re in and don’t get too worried that you’ll be stuck in one place forever.
Invest in your network
Good relationships lead to good reputations, and often great opportunities. One of the most valuable assets you can have early in your career is your professional network. So take time to truly connect—not just compete—with your peers. Don’t fall prey to a zero-sum mentality: A win for a colleague doesn’t necessarily mean a loss for you.
Maintaining positive, collaborative working relationships is critical. Who knows what twists and turns your career will take? Sometimes current colleagues become business partners, customers, or clients down the road.