Six Steps to Finding Career Nirvana for New Graduates

Steve Cadigan

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Graduation is in sight, so now what? As the end of the academic year quickly approaches, thousands of soon-to-be grads are lining up preparing to jump into the "real world" for the first time as full-time professional employees.

While my career adventure began three decades ago - I remember it like it was yesterday and vividly recall the combination of excitement and anticipation for a life I was finally going to start. I was anxious to get started in the "right" company and the "right" job.

As a history major, I had no clue of what the right job really meant to me or what kind of company I wanted to join. I had not interned for any company during college and my work-study jobs included being a security guard, a janitor, a camp counselor, a barista (pre-Starbucks) and even a construction worker.

While I didn't do particularly well in any of those jobs, I did learn something important. I learned that I didn't want to do any of those kinds of jobs when I graduated.

My parents worked in the non-profit sector doing great things for our community. While I deeply admired them and the lives they impacted, I wanted to go into "business", and I wanted to make a fortune.

To this day, neither my parents nor I are sure why I was so gung-ho for a path in business, but this is where I was when I started my journey: History degree in hand, not a single day of professional work experience, a desire to go into the business world and make a lot of money, a check from my grandmother for $3,000 (which felt like a million), and student loan debt of $30,000.

With very little awareness of what I wanted to do with my career, I set forth into the "real world."

Looking back on my career, I feel lucky and in all humility, I am proud of the path my career has taken since I stepped off the Wesleyan University campus in 1986.

I have worked in six different industries, lived and worked in three different countries: United States, Singapore, and Canada, and led 60 acquisition integrations all over the globe.

I've had the opportunity to work with some truly unbelievable people at amazing companies, which took me down some interesting paths and gave me unforgettable experiences - everything from being recognized for world class work on Cisco's Acquisition team, to being a part of the leadership team that built LinkedIn.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to share a stage with Magic Johnson, Deepak Chopra, and I even had the good fortune of meeting President Obama. All these experiences have led me to the place I am today; what I consider career nirvana - being able to work with the people I want to work with and doing what I want to do.

This year I launched a new organization with some friends, which is the culmination of all the things I have loved doing in my career: helping others develop and succeed, coaching, mentoring, and changing lives.

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is about how I got to where I am and why I made the choices I did along the way. The answer isn't simple, it's a combination of things - luck, making more than my share of mistakes, learning from one experience to the next and discovering the environments that bring out the best in me.

For those of you on the eve of stepping into the "real world" here are six key things I learned along the way that I hope will help you build your own wonderfully engaging career adventure.

The Impossible Choice

Choosing the first organization as you start your career feels momentous; in all honesty, it's an impossible decision for a new grad, no matter how many internships you may have held or how many amazing summer jobs you've completed.

Here at the start, you're not fully aware of whether you prefer: working in a big company vs. a small company, a big team vs. a small team, a private vs. A public company, a for profit vs. non-profit entity, a foreign owned company vs. a nationally owned company vs. a family owned company, or a young company vs. a company that has been around for decades.

You have little idea if you like working independently vs. in a group, working for a boss who gives you little direction vs. a boss who gives you a ton of direction, working long hours and weekends vs. working a normal 9-5 schedule, working in pressure environments vs. working in environments with no pressure, or working on projects with short deadlines vs. working on projects with long timelines.

You may not be sure if you work better in a company that is growing, shrinking, surviving or thriving, and you also may not know if you prefer a frenetic start-up culture to a more structured "corporate" environment.

It's virtually impossible to know the ultimate work setting for you as there are thousands of different settings, cultures, and opportunities out there to choose from. It takes time for you to experience them and build your bank of career awareness.

Since this is just the start, look at your first job as a place where you can begin to really learn about yourself, and what places and people inspire you and bring out your best. You may already have a hunch on the kind of place that suits you, so go out there and test your assumptions.

You probably won't nail it in your first company because it's what I call an acceptably impossible decision, but that is okay, and as a good friend of mine once told me, "you reserve the right to get smarter." From my point of view, I would value finding a place where you can learn above considerations around your title, your compensation, and the benefits of your first job.

I am co- founder of ISDI, which is the only University in the US to offer a Master's Degree in Internet Business. I have a passion for helping professionals and organizations realize their full potential. Having worked in the HR field for almost 30 years in global roles within 6 different industries I have built an understanding of what it takes to win. My career path includes roles at ESPRIT, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, AMD, Cisco Systems, PMC-Sierra, Electronic Arts and LinkedIn. While at LinkedIn as the top Talent Exec from 2009-2012 I helped guide the company's growth from 400 to 4,000 employees while building one of the most revered cultures in the tech industry. Today I write, speak, teach and advise professionals and organizations around the world on how to succeed in the digital economy. My clients include Twitter, Square, Andreessen Horowitz, GoPro, and Google.

Originally posted on Forbes.

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