Shifting gears: 7 tips for success for new grads and young professionals

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

Investors have been lightening up on stocks in advance of this week’s FOMC meeting (with 50 bps of rate hikes on the table), and it hasn’t been pretty, as the March lows in the major averages are being retested, and in some cases (like the Russell 2000 and Nasdaq 100), have been broken. It’s as if traders are playing a game of chicken with the Fed. Fortunately, corporate earnings reports have held up pretty well so far – despite the contraction in Q1 US GDP. Of course, we all seek greater clarity on the full scope and outcome of Fed monetary policy, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s COVID lockdowns. Each of these have had tremendous impact on the global economy, supply chains, and inflation.

My expectation has been for more hawkish Fed rhetoric and further tightening actions, a temporary economic slowdown and some demand destruction, and more stock market volatility, followed by mending supply chains, some catch-up in supply to slowing demand, moderating inflation, longer-dated bonds catching a bid, and a return of the “Fed put” to support markets through easier policy – which means fewer rate hikes than the projections suggest. As I see it, the global economy is so financialized that it depends upon ultra-low interest rates and stable markets, and the Fed does not want to be the catalyst for a market selloff. Time will tell.

So today, with graduation season coming up, I’d like to shift gears and share my 7 tips for professional success that I recommend when speaking with groups of new graduates. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and I’m certainly not claiming to have fully leveraged them all to maximally benefit my own career. They are simply a set of critical habits I compiled based on experience, observation, reading, reflection, and thousands of conversations, meetings, presentations, negotiations, and interactions throughout the years while working within various organizations ranging from a major multinational corporation to solo independent consulting, to a small, entrepreneurial business.

These tips are not just for new grads and young professionals. Seasoned professionals can appreciate them as well – including the many financial advisors among my readership. I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments!  Read on….

1. Don’t burn bridges. When someone asks me my #1 recommendation, they are often surprised when I name this one, but that’s how important I think it is to avoid messy run-ins or break-ups with employers, colleagues, or clients. As time passes, you will find that your industry is a small world. So, as the adage goes, what goes around comes around. We’ve all seen those viral videos of dramatic in-your-face job quits, but my contention is there is no upside to them (other than perhaps some fleeting social media fame). Same with hostile turf wars or back-stabbing.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be bridges that burn, sometimes despite your best efforts to avoid it. But it is in your long-term best interest that the instigator be the other party, not you. It is only then, if you happen to encounter this person again, that you are not the one who should feel embarrassed. In addition, avoid bad-mouthing your competitors or former colleagues or employers to others – it never reflects well upon you. Better to leave such things unsaid.

2. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is Habit #5 of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I love the way he put it in that concise sentence, so I’m repeating it verbatim. In other words, listen before you speak. Moreover, don’t try to make your point (or your sales pitch) until you fully grasp the other’s perspective or needs. Importantly, the other party must perceive that you understand their perspective. Perception is reality. This concept is particularly relevant in today’s highly polarized and politicized society. Given the preponderance of partisan social media, podcasts, and cable channels, people can stay in their “echo chamber” at all times and avoid ever having to hear an alternative perspective, much less try to understand it. This can lead to unwarranted, hyperbolic demonization of other viewpoints.

In the business world, seek first to understand what a successful business relationship means to your boss, colleague, employee, or client. Ask probing questions without coming off as challenging or skeptical. When it is time for you to speak, demonstrate that you understand their perspective and avoid tired tropes and platitudes. Instead, focus on specifics that directly address what is important to the other party. If you show respect in this way, it is usually reciprocated.

For a financial advisor speaking with clients or prospects, always focus on their needs or the benefits they will enjoy rather than expounding on how wonderful your services and product features are, which they must learn to appreciate. You want clients to feel they can shape/customize what they are buying rather than conform/succumb to what you are selling.

3. Be a problem solver, not a problem creator. No one likes to employ or work beside someone who is always whining, complaining, or stirring up trouble. We see so much of this in the public discourse today … always aggrieved or vitriolic but never offering a realistic solution, if any at all. If you identify a problem, don’t just complain about it; instead, offer up at least one reasonable solution … and preferably be prepared to help implement the solution. Take a constructive rather than defeatist approach when dealing with problems, hurdles, slights, or setbacks. Don’t play the victim; strive to be a leader, advisor, confidant, and team player. Be that go-to person when something needs to get done.

From a broader perspective, cultivate a reputation for trust, honesty, integrity, reliability, collaboration, positivity, and constructiveness. If you lead a team, instill empowerment, personal responsibility, and accountability in your team and clients through your actions and deeds. “When you offer genuine accountability, your clients will respond,” says famed pollster Frank Luntz. Develop and empower your team and then hold them accountable – because you can’t (and shouldn’t try to) handle it all alone. In negotiations, be non-adversarial, separating the people from the problem. Focus on the interests of each party rather than defending your position. Seek win-win outcomes. You will gain the respect of all parties.

4. Operate with an owner’s mentality. Perform every job or task like it’s your own business, even if you work for someone else. It will be noticed. Don’t be a clock-watcher, web-surfer, or work-avoider. Be punctual, neat, respectful, and pleasant, so that your presence, attitude, and actions reflect well upon both the firm and your boss. Find ways to add value even if you don’t have specific tasks that need to be done. Continually seek ways to cut costs, improve processes, increase client engagement/retention, or boost revenues – both within your immediate area of influence and for the company overall. Not only can you enhance your perceived value to the company, but you also can improve or diversify your skillset, not to mention leave work at the end of the day with a greater feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Of course, you must be mindful of the politics within your organization and present your ideas with tact and diplomacy. You should willingly share credit with others when things go well, and accept blame when things go awry. Avoid overshadowing or end-running your boss; you need him/her in your corner.

5. Never stop learning. From a career perspective, you should also strive to develop new skills, be aware of industry news and trends, and constantly seize learning opportunities. You might consider pursuing higher education or professional credentials early in your career, but learning should not stop there. Read industry publications, seek cross-training opportunities, or volunteer in areas where you can both learn and contribute. Study a new language, join a community or professional organization, learn to code, or become more adept at Excel.

For a financial advisor, clients may look to you for guidance, such as how to invest in new technologies, even if you can’t sell them a specific product. If a client asks about buffered, target-date, or thematic ETFs, or investment opportunities in cryptocurrency, blockchain, AI, or metaverse, you can’t simply pass them off out-of-hand as “too risky” or “you don’t need to worry about that” just because you haven’t sufficiently researched them. That’s a sure-fire way to lose the client. Even if your firm doesn’t allow you to offer such products, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to provide some context and education – or bring in an expert who can.

6. Become a skilled networker. Don’t afraid to introduce yourself to new people, whether in person or via email, without being rude or pushy of course. I’m not just talking about prospecting, which of course is important. I’m talking more broadly about building diverse personal and professional relationships. Sure, we’d all like to meet Warren Buffett or Elon Musk, but they are probably not the ones who will advance your career. Often, new opportunities arise when you least expect them and from acquaintances that might not be obvious.

Do not send out reams of LinkedIn connection invitations to people you don’t know. You should pursue personal networking in which you get to know people and build meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with them. Be genuinely interested and offer to help, but be careful not to come off like a pitchman – whether pitching your product or pitching yourself for a job. And by the way, if you do decide to send LinkedIn invitations to your classmate’s parents or second-level connection, I highly suggest you do not fire them off without a personalized note (which is so easy to do when using the mobile app). Instead, you should use the web version (or learn how to do it from the mobile app) and send a brief but thoughtful note as to why you would like to connect. I always do this, and I rarely accept invitations that do not include a personalized note.

And lastly, even the more seasoned among us, including those who are financially independent and don’t feel they need to expand their network, still should feel a sense of duty to connect with and help develop the next generation.

7. Take calculated, asymmetric risks. This applies both to your career and to your investments (and those of your clients). It simply means that you should be open to new opportunities, and the risks you take should be skewed to the upside, i.e., much less risk of loss than opportunity for gain. Sounds easy enough, but in practice they can be hard to identify. For a given investment, this might imply stop losses, protective puts, buffers, or another type of hedge or insurance … or it might mean finding a good company that is either just getting started (with little required investment) or is already heavily beaten down by market conditions to a low valuation (i.e., the proverbial “baby thrown out with the bathwater”).

For your career, as Kenny Rogers said in his song The Gambler, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep….” But the reality is, it is hard to know anything for sure; instead, you just have to decide. And there are no hard-and-fast rules on this, although some people have come up with their own rules of thumb. One successful “serial entrepreneur” I know gives any new venture four years to gain traction. But I think the number is more fluid. In some cases, you will know quite soon when it is time to throw in the towel, and in other cases, you may want to give it more time.

You don’t want to be known as a job-hopper, but on the other hand, life is short, so you can’t wait too long. In addition, there is a balancing act between looking out for yourself and doing right by your colleagues and employees. Coming back full circle to tip #1, don’t burn bridges as you make these decisions.

Allow me to close with a few additional instructive quotes:

“People will forget what you said … but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou.

“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game” – Babe Ruth.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller.

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster—and treat those two impostors just the same”
– Rudyard Kipling.

I wish you all the best of success and happiness in your endeavors!

Disclaimer: This newsletter is published solely for informational purposes and is not to be construed as advice or a recommendation to specific individuals. Individuals should take into account their personal financial circumstances in acting on any opinions, commentary, rankings, or stock selections provided by Sabrient Systems or its wholly owned subsidiary, Gradient Analytics. Sabrient makes no representations that the techniques used in its rankings or analysis will result in or guarantee profits in trading. Trading involves risk, including possible loss of principal and other losses, and past performance is no indication of future results


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