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What every college grad should know about surviving corporate America

Shadan Deleveaux, director of sales multicultural beauty division at L’Oréal USAShadan Deleveaux, director of sales multicultural beauty division at L’Oréal USA
Shadan Deleveaux, director of sales multicultural beauty division at L’Oréal USACourtesy of L’Oréal USA

The Leadership Insider 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 would you give your 22-year-old self today? is written by Shadan Deleveaux, director of sales multicultural beauty division at L’Oréal USA.

Trying to provide advice to my 22-year-old self is no small feat. As a fresh graduate, I was incredibly over-confident and completely clueless as to how corporate America worked; I was unaware of the complex dynamics of leadership. I didn’t know about the nuances of authority and influence, or how promotions were decided. In all respects, I was a newborn to the world of business. Realizing the deficiency of my knowledge, it is difficult to find advice that would fit within the word constraints of this piece, but I’ve always loved a challenge. So if there were three essential pieces of wisdom that I could impart on my younger self, they would be this:

Find a mentor
A mentor can help you even before your career starts. When it comes to business, I think there are generally two ways to learn: through experience and through advice. Some lessons are best taught through experiential learning. For example, the skill of developing creative solutions to complex problems is something that is best acquired through repetition. As you are confronted with more and more of these types of challenges, you become better at addressing them based on your own personal style, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses.

On the other hand, some lessons are best taught through advice and guidance. Perhaps you’ve been tasked with leading a new team. Or maybe you’ve been selected to launch a project from conception through execution. A qualified guide can help you effectively navigate these scenarios. That’s what a mentor is: a person who has walked the path before you and can educate you on common mistakes and pitfalls. A mentor can evaluate your performance from a detached perspective, and provide the necessary constructive feedback to push you out of your comfort zone and take your abilities to the next level.

Keep an open mind
Many people don’t realize the myriad of careers you can have at different organizations or companies. For example, here at L’Oréal, we have more than 4,000 employees in our Research and Innovation division around the world, with job titles that range from color chemist to product developer and supply chain expert. This may come as a surprise because people don’t typically associate our industry with science and technology roles, but innovation and tech is at the core of all we do. No matter what your passion is, explore different opportunities and nontraditional paths.

Find an internal champion
To help you reach the upper echelons of your company, find your champion. Your champion is a senior person in the organization that is willing to identify and promote opportunities that will allow you to showcase your capabilities. He or she is your advocate in meetings, and it’s your champion’s responsibility to bring up your name for the projects or leadership roles that can catapult you to the next stage of your career. Your champion can also help you learn more about the company’s inner-workings beyond your direct role, understand how teams collaborate, and how you can thrive in the company culture. Champions are looking for the person who is talented, prepared, works hard, and has tenacity. As a result of helping to cultivate this person’s skills and career, their success becomes the champion’s success.

There are so many more pieces of advice that I could give my 22-year-old self, which is one of the primary reasons that I created a Tumblr account completely dedicated to helping recent graduates learn some of the things I wish I knew when I was beginning my career. So my last piece of advice would be to check out the website.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self today?

Best advice for a 22-year-old: quit bragging about your accomplishments by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

A nobody can still make a memorable first impression by Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of Broadband TV.

Even this CEO knows it’s okay to fail by Kyle Wong, CEO of Pixlee.

How starting at the bottom gets you to the top — quicker by Frederic Kerrest, co-founder and COO of Okta.

What entrepreneurs get wrong about success by Lynn LeBlanc, CEO and founder of HotLink.

Why you should never get promoted too quickly by David Kong, CEO of Best Western.