Career Tidbits for Those Starting Out


The following is a summary of some of teaching points about career development in a series of presentations I gave to students at my alma mater, The Hill School of Pottstown, PA in March, 2012. This is by no means an exhaustive or complete listing of career considerations, but simply some points I’ve felt important to me, and those I’ve counseled.  And I might add, many are things I wish I had practiced sooner and better!

The good news is that there is no reason to hurry into your career so don’t feel rushed. Most of you will probably change your mind several times in the next few years, so stay patient with yourselves, but be aware and on the lookout, and venture out to explore.

Build a good foundation. I recently asked a woman friend of mine who happens to be a very successful investment banker about advice for my talk and she said, “Take the jobs that others don’t want and that force you to do the most work, and for the moment, forget the money aspect.” That was not quite what I expected her to say, but she felt that it is far better to start out slow and learn all you can. In other words, if you want to plant seeds, you must prepare the soil first.  The skyscraper needs a deep and strong foundation. Your career is no different.

Ask yourself good questions:  Want to deal with things or people? Please your parents? Social status? Make a lot of money? Change the world…in what way? The questions you ask in life determine and change the direction and quality of your life.

Be a Doer. The only thing more powerful than knowing what to do is doing it. Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply.  Willingness is not enough, we must DO.” The world rewards action, not knowledge. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were prime examples of that. To know and not to do, is not to know.

For those of you who think you have all the answers and know it all, I challenge you just as I was challenged. You’ve never done the “career bit” yet, so you don’t know. There is a big difference between self-confidence and foolishness. If you think you know everything, your cup is full and you are not teachable, and not being teachable is a leading cause of failure.

If you want to improve and change, what are you willing to give up (favorite hobby, food, ritual, beliefs, etc.)? Don’t expect to improve or change the world if you are not willing to give up certain things and first change yourself.

To whom do you listen to and why?  Listen to people who have what you want, who physically have  – good health, happiness, wealth, business success, great relationships, knowledge, etc. Take anyone else with a “grain of salt.” If you want to be a world-class chef, do you take advice from or apprentice under a short order cook?  Uninformed opinions are worth little as well intentioned as they may be.

Leaders are always readers. Read about those who have been where you want to go.  Don’t rely on fiction except for entertainment.

A true “Master” always stays an “Apprentice” at heart and never has to proclaim their mastery.

Don’t get caught up in perfection. Excellence trumps perfection every time. It’s far better to be nimble and flexible than it is to be slow and perfect.

The competition model is broken. And you’re hearing that from a former professional athlete and aggressive businessperson. I challenge you to champion collaboration, communication, and cooperation.

Ideas/imagination and relationships are more important than what you currently realize. Great ideas that are acted upon melt many challenges.

Dare to fail, and fail often (not for integrity or carelessness), but be willing to explore and venture. Edison did. So should you. Just don’t repeat old mistakes.

Finish this sentence:  It’s not what you know, it’s…. (not who you know). No!  It’s who knows you and how they regard you.

Don’t be mesmerized by gaining the largest salary or some image of status. Don’t be afraid to get dirty in the trenches and pursue what really turns you on. Volunteer for the tasks or assignments no one else wants.

Network and stay in touch with The Hill and wherever you go to college. Networking is just as much about giving as it is getting. Volunteer your time and talents and the rewards will be tremendous.

If you are secure and confident, do start your own business. If not the corporate, non-profit, and academic worlds can be appropriate as well.

EVERYONE is ultimately in salesclerks, teachers, ministers, bankers, scientists, doctors, nurses, receptionists, etc. Even if you don’t fancy the subject, become proficient in learning how to uncover other’s problems and points of pain, and then help them. Ultimately that is what sales is.

Under-promise and over-deliver. Some have disagreed with me on this, and those I know who have, have subsequently suffered greatly. You or your company’s integrity should always be protected.

Your Headmaster Mr. David Doughterty spoke:  “True kindness is not a weakness, but an act of genuine strength.” Truer words were never spoken and I hope you truly embrace them.

Be authentic. Yes, tactfulness is a wonderful trait, but quietly be true to yourself.

Manage your career. When I left college, there were many companies that hired you for life. No more. No matter what any recruiter tells you, they are looking out for the good of the organization, and you must look out for you. If you don’t add value to an organization, they will inevitably let you go.

Adopt and adapt, be flexible.  Make your future greater than your past.

Real lions don’t need to roar. Anger is the workplace diminishes everyone and bragging is boring. Act accordingly.

Nothing you want is upstream. It’s downstream and you only have to veer toward love and abundance over fear, worry, judgment, and scarcity. Going against the natural flow of life can sound noble, but it never wins in the end.

Ask for help in your career. This is not a do-it-yourself project so don’t attempt it alone.

Don’t spend too much time on the how, the technique, or the skill associated with your projects. Focus upon the “what” and the “why.”

Focus, awareness, and taking fearless action determine success.

The only cause of failure is quitting. Persevere! Besides, there are no failures, only detours!

Your growth curve and careers will peak at different points.  Be patient with yourself and resist comparing yourself to others or your classmates. For a few of you, career success might happen very quickly. For others, you may not discover your skills until later.

Get a mentor who has been successful in your field.  Associate with people who are brilliant in the areas you want to pursue. Ask him or her how they might proceed if in your shoes?  Model their best attributes.  Be an apprentice. Not only do you get the knowledge, but also you get to see someone who is using the knowledge.

Don’t hoard information.  Don’t consider yourself invaluable as indispensible. If you do, you are dead in the water. Your organization will ultimately realize that they can’t afford you and will eventually find ways to circumvent and obsolete you.

Make everyone around you better. By helping and building clients and teammates, you become far more valuable than simply being a top notch individual contributor.

Utilize “informational interviews” in your job campaign. They are less threatening as opposed to the “hire me” approach. Ask people about their industry, threats, opportunities, developments, and how they got started. Most will be more than happy to share with you.

Don’t worry about landing with the perfect company or getting the perfect job. It’s more about motion and getting started and not about getting a perfect start. Chances are overwhelming your first job or company or even profession will not be your last one.

I strongly encourage you to always have as a goal to feel good right now! Not tomorrow, not when you get accepted into college, get a car, get that girl or boy friend  Be outrageously happy! This is an emotion, not a physical attribute. Confident, grateful, blessed, secure, loving, loved, bliss, contentment, joy, exhilaration, exuberance, etc. No right or wrong good feeling.  Always feel good right now and keep feeling better. Your good feelings are your major indicator that you are on track.

Define your dream. Clearly know what you want. At a restaurant, do you get a menu and pick what you want to eat or do you say, bring me some food? Get a burning desire for what you want.  What you want, wants you. Focus upon what you want and not upon what you don’t want. You can be do or have anything you want, provided you can dream it. You feel good just thinking about it.

If you don’t believe that you are capable of achieving your dream, chop in down into smaller pieces until they become doable enough that you believe you can accomplish them.

Your dream and goals must be something you believe in. Your beliefs will all be different, which is okay. Believe and feel them. If you don’t believe, you won’t get what you want.

Eat at the big table.  Don’t let fear hold you back.  While you may want to act like an apprentice, stand in your power, but be humble, giving, and grateful.  Don’t have regrets for things you wish you had tried, but didn’t.  Embrace life and remember: What lies in front of front of you is inconsequential compared to what lies within you!



Bob Fagan coaches executives, athletes, and general folk from the age 12 to 84+, helping them to success and on to significance.  He can be reached at


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