21 Tips for 2021 University Graduates
Tips and models to elevate your professional capabilities and accelerate your career exponentially.
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With new grads coming into the industry this month I think it’s helpful to put together a list of tips for the best and brightest to have in mind as they begin their careers.
All of these are considerations that I've learned throughout my time in the ag industry that have had a disproportionate impact on my career.
1. Ask Questions Don’t let the feeling of looking stupid keep you from asking questions. Many others have the same question and you’ll have more confidence in that answer moving forward.
You don’t know everything. You never will (no matter what your degree says). But you can try. In order to do this, you need to ask questions + listen to those more experienced and with different perspectives. You don’t have to agree with others opinions, but sometimes their perspective is what you need.
2. Learn Broadly (Always Be Capturing - ABC) Being done school doesn’t mean you stop learning. It means learning is just beginning. Learning your area is important, but going beyond ag is beneficial in work & in your personal life. The tools to accomplish this today are infinite. Never stop learning.
3. Operations & Logistics Strengths Are Undervalued Do not take for granted the need to understand the fundamentals within your corner of the industry. Whether you are in retail, a farm, equipment manufacturer etc knowing the operational minutiae gives you a strong foundation to build on.
4. Create a Brand If you don’t have a brand, then you are a commodity. The ability to show employers, investors or even current colleagues what you value, what you enjoy and what you are good at is valuable. Social media, websites, podcasts, blogs are just a few of the tools available to do this today.
5. Be Open Minded Things are changing faster than ever in Ag. Don’t shut down new ideas; ask “why not” and “what would need to be true for this to work?” & embrace complexity (nothing is simple - be open to the difficult).
6. Develop Soft Skills Hard skills are important - if you work in Ag & don’t understand soil chemistry, animal physiology or grain markets it can be tough to be successful. But clear communication, story telling, critical thinking & leading teams (and more) will differentiate you.
7. Expand Your Time Horizons 3 years out seems like a long time, but it’s <10% of your working life. Think 15 or 20 yrs out instead when it comes to things like skill development, career moves or how a technology could impact you.
8. Identify What You Value What you value in your career, your co workers, your boss, will help align your decisions of where to work, what company to build and people you spend your time with. Identify these values early, they can change, but think hard about them.
9. Build a Network Make connections. Introduce yourself to people you find interesting and tell them your ideas. Send messages on social media, request a coffee or a phone call. A wider network will continually work in your favour.
Note: Show you have put time into the topic you want to discuss or learn about the individual you are reaching out to. It’ll go way further.
10. Identify Role Models Mentors are great, but not everyone has the luxury of finding someone to mentor them directly. I’ve aspired to learn from many, learning tons from people I’ve never met through their podcasts, articles, tweets etc.
This can be colleagues you work with too.
11. Become Great at Numerous Things Being in the top 1% of a specific area is hard. But being in the top 80% of 3 - 4 diff areas/skills is more achievable & differentiates you + opens more doors. You’ll be known for a very specific skill combination & increase your career options.
12. Get Passionate It’s super cliche to say “find your passion”. I’d suggest instead to get passionate about what you are doing. If you are a grain commodity trader - become obsessed with everything that goes into it.
13. Have High Standards for Yourself and Others Expect a lot from people and yourself. Mediocrity is too often accepted. High expectations make you and the industry better for tomorrow.
14. Be Comfortable in the Grey Area We get taught in black and white. The world is grey.
15. Build Up a Resource Base One of the most valuable skills is being resourceful; finding answers in uncommon places. You won’t be able to remember everything, but for those with a strong resource pool to pull from, the answer is always just a quick reference away.
16. People Matter Related to soft skills, but worth its own point. You’ll never get anything meaningful done on your own. Recognizing everyone knows something you don’t & understanding that how you make people feel is more important than them knowing exactly what you think goes a long way.
17. Outcome Over Ego Related to the above, but very valuable. The goal shouldn’t be to be right, but to achieve the best possible outcome. That might mean your ideas don’t get used. Accept it and learn from it.
18. Think in 2nd+ Order Implications Every action results in a consequence. But that consequence has a subsequent consequence. Those cause and effects should be considered beyond the initial consequence when making a decision. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
19. Quantify & Visualize What You Can If you can quantify it, do so. That means you can measure it, can manage it and can improve it. Otherwise it’s abstract.
Additionally, people do better with images and pictures - if you can visualize it, do so.
(Note: Working to remind myself each and every week of the visualization piece!)
20. Strong Opinions Loosely Held Having conviction in your beliefs is paramount, but you need to be continuously open to changing times and new information...especially early on in your career. Be confident, but be ready to adapt.
21. Consistency Anyone can write one blog post, share their conference notes one time or offer to help once in a while. Identify things you know are valued by others and do them consistently, not only when it’s convenient. Be the person that takes notes at every meeting and circulates them to everyone afterwards, be the person that shares one interesting article with the implications to your colleagues every Monday morning, or be the person that listens to one podcast every morning before work. Consistency compounds… and there is no greater force than compounding.
Many could argue that there are other aspects that could be gone through and some will say this could be condensed down to 5 tips. I think there are useful models that can be selected by anyone graduating, or beyond.
I hope this works as a framework of reference for new professionals and a refresher for experienced professionals.
If you would like to read further on the topic of self improvement, check out these blog posts:
4 Essential Soft Skills For Success in the Ag Industry
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Agronomists
The 10% Rule for Professional Development
5 Tips for Purposeful Professional Progress
10 Findings in 10 Years in the Ag Industry
Cultivating a Better Understanding
Great article Shane! I would add, pay it forward...especially when building networks. Never hesitate to make an introduction to help a friend or colleague. That 1-2 mins to write a quick email introduction will make a tremendous difference for others!