No Pomp, Just Circumstance
Millions of newly minted university graduates are about to enter the workforce. About 100 of them will come to work at Marcum in the fall as entry-level staff accountants. Hopefully, the great majority of the rest of them will end up at other good companies, or start their own, and hopefully, most of them will be on career paths that will lead to professional achievement, financial success, and personal satisfaction. That’s certainly Marcum’s goal for our young associates (many of whom we recruit before they even graduate).
Probably like many of you, when I look at our new entry-level hires, I can’t help thinking of my own kids – two of whom have already graduated college and entered the working world. Isaac (age 25) is following his passion in the automotive industry, and Leo (age 22) is in a commercial banking training program at a major money center bank. That’s two down, three to go in the Weiner household (there’s still a few years left before Lily, Kate and Max have their chance to cross the stage and switch their tassels to the other side).
My hopes for my children are also my hopes for their entire generation. After all, these are the people who will carry forward when the rest of us retire to live the next dream. To the extent that I have any influence, here’s the best advice I can give them, based on a few years of life experience, plus my observations of the many graduates we have integrated into our organization over the years:
1. Ask as many questions as you can, starting with the job interview. Asking questions beats book learning any day, and it’s a great way to connect with other people and get noticed. Since some people are naturally more reserved than others, we make a point of arranging for job candidates to go out to a nice lunch with a bunch of our staff accountants so they can ask the questions they might not feel comfortable asking in the formal interview – what the first year at the Firm looks like, what the corporate culture is like, whether their peers are happy they chose Marcum – the kinds of things that you can’t put into an HR manual.
2. Look for opportunities to convert your book knowledge into real experience. Marcum runs a summer leadership program that lets sophomores and juniors spend 2-3 days at our offices around the country, to get an inside look at the business of public accounting. This can lead to internships, another great way for pre-grads to gain real world experience. Once you’re on staff, take advantage of any internal training programs your company offers. In addition to the obvious hands-on benefit of learning from the inside how things work, you will likely also get to meet key people inside the organization. For example, under the auspices of Marcum University, we bring all of our new associates from around the country to our Long Island, NY, location for two full weeks of training and introductions every year. Our national service line leaders attend these events, and I try to make it myself when I’m in town. It’s some of the best money we spend to help kick-start these careers.
3. Finish your formal education! Don’t delay in getting your CPA, JD or whatever professional degree or certification your chosen field requires. Do it now before life happens – it will be too easy to let it slip down the priority list after the marriage/kids/house take over.
4. Build relationships with people who can influence and impact your career. Don’t be afraid to approach higher ups – you will find that most senior executives are happy to share their expertise and advice. Access to team members at all levels of the organization is one of the greatest benefits we provide and a key factor in Marcum’s corporate culture.
5. Be humble. Even if you were class valedictorian, believe me when I say you don’t have all the answers. Respect everyone and know how to take responsibility when things don’t go as planned. Murphy’s Law is still alive and kicking, so be prepared for it.
6. Be intellectually curious. See #1 above. Never stop learning. This is the surest path to advancement, whether it’s understanding the next trend, embracing (or suggesting) a process improvement, or achieving a deeper understanding about your product, company or industry.
7. Be flexible. Don’t rule out a lateral move, which can often be as rewarding and interesting as moving up. The chance to learn a new aspect of your company’s operation or perform a new function is a great way to build your skill set and enlarge your network. It makes you a more well-rounded employee and can lead to other opportunities to keep growing.
8. Keep being you. Every company has a culture, and you will need to adapt in order to thrive. But that doesn’t necessarily mean suppressing your inner party animal, if that’s who you are. Just become a smarter party animal by bringing your business cards with you, or talking to people about what they do from 9-5. It’s the best way to develop contacts and perfect your people skills at the same time. Both are essential in business.
9. Make customer service your priority. And that means not only the people who buy your company’s products or services, but the people inside your team or company. Respect people’s time, contributions, and personal work style. Recognize what makes other people tick and adjust; it will not only make you a more empathetic person, it will give you new skills you didn’t know you needed.
10. Pay it forward. Be generous with your time and your attitude. Make a commitment to share your experience with others who are learning, even if you’re still on the way up the ladder yourself. And don’t forget those who’ve helped you along the way – remembering those kindnesses will help pave your career.
And by the way, even if you have gray hair, all of this applies to you too. Keep learning and growing. Do not be kidded into thinking that the world isn’t changing around you.
Congratulations to all the 2017 graduates! I wish you good luck and great success in all your endeavors!