Why Most Advice for College Grads Won’t Help

June 9, 2017, 12:00 AM UTC

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 Lauren Stiller Rikleen, author of You Raised Us, Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams, president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, and a visiting scholar at the Boston College Center for Work & Family.

Graduation season marks that time of year when senior generations are particularly eager to offer their wisdom, hoping to influence new graduates as they embark on their careers. Commencement speakers carefully craft remarks to try to inspire and delight, while friends and relatives stand ready to reinforce the formal guidance with their own words of wisdom.

For the new graduate, the wide-ranging advice, albeit well meaning, can feel overwhelming. It is no small feat to sort through myriad recommendations for ways to pursue your dreams while impressing your supervisors, breaking generational stereotypes, dressing for success, and otherwise demonstrating that ever necessary good impression and strong work ethic.

As another voice adding to the advice mix, I will focus my recommendations on two areas. The first involves avoiding gossip in the workplace. It can be hard to resist the conversations that focus on a colleague’s performance (or lack thereof), visual appearance (including rating systems and comments on body type and clothing selections), or predictions about who is likely to lose their jobs or otherwise find themselves in the crosshairs of a senior manager. Office talk of this nature offers a diversion from mundane tasks and insights into what your colleagues think. But they are also often destructive to careers and unkind to their unaware recipients.

Those who stay above the fray by avoiding office gossip tend to be the more respected people in the workplace. Their silence on these issues is not seen as stuffiness or negative judgment on those participating, but rather as a quiet strength of character that serves as a behavior to model.

My second piece of advice is to be wary of advice. Your challenge is to discern if those giving advice have your best interests in mind, or even know what those best interests may be. After all, advice can be influenced by fear, jealousy, rivalry, love, unrequited affection, or other personal or professional considerations. Even family members may offer advice tinged by their own worries or other family dynamics.

Make sure you heed advice from people you can trust to offer wise guidance in your best interests. This requires a recognition that there is no perfect source of advice for all issues. Broaden your base of people you rely on and choose them wisely.

Many mixed emotions accompany you on that ceremonial walk to the dais to receive your diploma. Shortly after, you will be taking your first steps into your new workplace, another moment filled with excitement and trepidation. Be sure to bring with you the best of the wisdom others have tried to impart and select the advice that fits your goals and dreams.

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