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Career Advice to My Daughter on Graduation Day

Next Avenue’s Work & Volunteering blogger offers tips for college graduates entering the job market

By Nancy Collamer

On Sunday, my youngest daughter, Juliana, will graduate from George Washington University with a bachelor of science degree in public health. She will then start a job as executive director of Volunteers on Call, a nonprofit based in Greenwich, Conn., that promotes volunteerism and philanthropy. Here is my letter to Juliana in honor of her special day; I hope that you will share it with the special graduates in your life.

Dear Juliana,

Four years have passed since you graduated from high school. Back then, I wrote you a letter urging you to take advantage of all that your George Washington University experience would offer. Five internships, a semester of study abroad, countless all-nighters and one presidential inaugural ball later, it’s clear you took that advice to heart. Well done, my dear!

To bookend that letter, I thought I’d offer a few more words of wisdom – this time about the world of work. I hope this advice serves you well as you cross the threshold from college to career:

Live beneath your means. I’m starting with money advice because career flexibility is directly tied to your financial health.

Juliana, as excited as you are about starting your new job, there will come a day when you’ll be ready to make a change. I can’t predict when that will be, but I guarantee you’ll find it easier to maneuver if you’ve put aside money to support yourself during the transition.

(MORE: Mothers, Teach Your Daughters to Save For Retirement)

So, be frugal. (Yes, I know we've already told you this!) Make saving for your future a priority beginning with your first paycheck, even if you can only sock away a few dollars each week.

Invest in yourself. Your unique package of skills and expertise, cultivated through education, experiences and sweat equity, is the most valuable asset you’ll ever own.

Keep your earning power strong by signing up for training sessions, workshops and college classes that expand your competencies and keep your skills fresh.

Whenever possible, take advantage of employer-sponsored education and tuition subsidies.

And don’t forget to frequent the public library for books and magazines that will make you a more valuable employee and job candidate. For my money, the library is the best educational bargain in town.

Try new things. There are going to be plenty of times when you feel stuck in your career and unsure what to do next. (I’ve been there.) While introspection is valuable, the best way to move forward is to challenge yourself through new initiatives, even if you don’t know where they’ll lead.

(MORE: From Dad to Grad: A Few Words of Advice)

Take a class in a subject you know nothing about. Offer to help a friend on a project. Volunteer. Accept a new assignment at work. You’ll stumble a bit along the way. But with each experience, you’ll learn something and grow more confident about your next steps.

The founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, agrees with me. In a recent Business Insider article featuring his career advice for college grads, Hoffman advised, “Ask others 'How can I help?' Fulfill needs. Solve problems. And you change the world.”

Be bold. Have the courage to ask people for professional favors, maybe even informational interviews to learn about their field. I’ve found that seasoned folks like to help younger ones just starting out and that many will be glad to offer assistance if you ask.

This advice about being bold extends to speaking with people you don’t know, like your seatmate on a plane. As you learned while studying abroad, talking with others who have different backgrounds than yours can be illuminating. I know – starting a conversation with a stranger can sometimes feel awkward. But I've been amazed by the number of times I've heard about random conversations that ultimately led to lucky opportunities.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable at work. Remember that nobody expects you to know it all on day one. To help ease your way, find co-workers or industry colleagues you respect who can serve as mentors and provide constructive feedback.

You’ll never grow to your full potential unless you’re willing to push beyond your comfort zone.

Nourish your network (especially when you don’t need to). You’ve already had personal experience seeing how powerful networking can be when you were looking for internships. Now that you have a job, it’s even more important to nurture your connections and make new ones.

Make it a priority to “feed” your network with a regular diet of phone calls, articles, emails and in-person meetings. Stay in touch with your college friends, get involved with civic groups, join industry associations and build enduring relationships with people in your field.

(MORE: The No. 1 Way to Get Hired Today)

Cultivate a network of people who can play a variety of supporting roles to help your career flourish, from cheerleaders to devil’s advocates.


Disconnect. As important as it is for you to work hard, it’s imperative that you routinely take time to be self-reflective and mindful.

Give your brain a chance to recharge and rejuvenate on a daily basis. Unplug your phone. Turn off the news. Shut down the computer and go for a walk. Meditate. Listen to music. Go for a run on the beach. How you do it doesn’t matter as much as that you do it.

Coming up with creative solutions to your pressing work-related challenges is much easier when you make a point to step away from the noise regularly.

Pay attention to the small things. Lots of people are smart, diligent and do commendable work. But it’s the ones who do the little things well that stand out from the crowd.

What do I mean by that? I’m talking about things like remembering to reply to your work emails in a timely fashion, sending thank-you notes to your boss and colleagues when appropriate and showing up on time for appointments.

This attention to detail doesn’t require much effort and people will appreciate them more than you might think.

Find the silver lining in your career clouds. Almost everyone I know has had at least one or two bad job experiences — a sudden, unexpected layoff or a bully boss, for example. Funny thing is, when I ask my older clients to reflect on their careers, they almost always say those occurrences, while not enjoyable, provided the proverbial “kick in the pants” they needed to make a change.

I hope you’ll remember this when you hit the inevitable roadblocks along the way (as much as I wish you’d never encounter them).

Honor your work/life boundaries. Don’t be a slave to your job. If the president of the United States can find time for vacation, so can you.

Take trips, leave work at a reasonable hour (at least on most days) and protect your weekends as much as possible.

If you don’t set limits on the time you spend at your job, your boss won’t either.

Trust in your future. I think this is my most important piece of advice for you, Juliana. The world is a crazy place, but you are as well positioned for success as anyone can be.

Keep building your skills, surround yourself with smart people and don’t be afraid to take some career risks along the way. You’re going to be just fine.

Thanks for doing us proud. Now go pop the champagne and enjoy the celebration. You’ve earned it!

With love,
Mom (and Dad)

Photograph of Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter). Read More
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