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From the Classroom to the Boardroom: Practical Advice for Graduating Seniors

The textbooks are sold, classrooms are empty, and thousands of graduating seniors are entering into the real world this summer with a wealth of knowledge that will help them succeed in their professional and personal lives.

Not so fast says Buford Barr, who teaches marketing and public relations courses in the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.

“Graduation is a great moment in your life, but it’s called commencement for a reason,” he preached to his seniors on the last day of his integrated marketing class. “I know you put a lot of time, energy, and money into your education, but nobody cares about what you know, it’s what you do with what you know."

Here is Barr’s final lesson on starting a career, managing it, and what Barr believes young adults should do before they turn 30.

  • Forget habits academia has taught you. When your manager calls on you to do a task or answer a question, you have to be ready and perform on demand. You can’t tell your boss that you need to go home, look it up, and study it. Those days are over.
  • Organizations reward performance, contributions, success, and productivity, NOT your efforts. Someone may have once said to you, “good try” or “at least you tried.” That may have been acceptable at some point in your life, but employers don’t care how hard you tried. Just do it.
  • Delegate for maximum productivity. When appropriate, find someone who can do the job 80 percent as well as you and get it off your desk. By building a team and spreading the work around, you can take on more projects and responsibilities.
  • Opportunity doesn’t always come knocking. It slithers under the door, and sometimes you step in it before you know what it is. A student was interning at Cisco, and he bumped into the CEO in the elevator. When I asked the student what he did, he said, “Nothing. I couldn’t talk. I was so nervous, I couldn’t do anything.” That student missed an opportunity to say hello to the head of the company, to introduce himself, and make himself memorable. You never know who or what is coming around the corner, so always plan for the unexpected.
  • Establish and maintain a network of people who can help you advance. This isn’t about who you know, but who knows you and what they say about you. Send everyone on your contact list an e-mail at least once a year to check in. You have to work it.
  • Learn when to keep your mouth shut. You’ll find office gossip happening in just about any setting, but that doesn’t mean you should participate in it. Don’t spread rumors or say anything negative about your co-workers and your managers.
  • Complete your formal education. If you want to get any advanced degrees, do it sooner rather than later. Although many people obtain their master’s degrees later in life, it can be very challenging, especially when you’re working full-time, you’re married, and you have children.
  • Develop your own style. How will people remember you? What is your personal brand? Barr says when he worked in New York City, he always wore his western boots, regardless of whether he was dressed in a suit, a tuxedo, or jeans. He became known as “Buford, from Beaumont, Texas, who wears boots.”
  • Put your sexual and emotional life in order. This takes a lot of time, energy, and emotion, and if you are dealing with your relationships, you’ll be less focused on dealing with your career. Barr says he’s not advising you to rush into marriage or to stay single. He’s simply pointing out the fact that it’s difficult to manage new relationships and new careers at the same time.
  • Start putting away your “I quit” money. Learn to live on 70 percent of your salary. Before you know it, it’ll be time for you to retire.

Buford Barr is a lecturer in marketing and communications at Santa Clara University. He spent nearly 30 years in the corporate world, leaving to focus on academia and helping to reconcile what is taught with what is sought by employers.

Media contact:
Connie Kim Coutain | | 408-554-5126 office | 408-829-4836 cell

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