Kim: New graduates shouldn't repeat these mistakes

August 3, 2013

KimA college education is one of life’s most important and costly investments. I’ve discussed the value proposition of college choices and paying for college. But what should college graduates do after they’ve earned their diploma to protect and enhance their return on this monumental investment?

Bryan Burkhart is a founder of New York-based H. Bloom, which bills itself as the fastest-growing floral and plant service in the world. Sixteen years ago, he was a freshly minted graduate of the Wharton School, one of the top business programs in the world.

Burkhart’s column, “A ‘Not-to-Do’ List for Recent College Graduates,” was recently published in The New York Times.  He has graciously allowed me to share his words with you.

He mused about a practical commencement speech he might give.

“I have good news and bad news. First, the bad news: Despite your newly obtained degree, you don’t know anything. You have no skills. If you are really lucky, you will soon land your first job. You are not entitled to that job. If you get it, you should be grateful for your good fortune and make the most of it.

“It will be hard work, sometimes back-breaking work, and you may feel that the work is beneath you. But the reality is that nothing is beneath you, because you don’t know anything—yet.

“Now, the good news: You live in the United States of America, the greatest country in the world. If you work really, really hard, if you are happy to start at the bottom and work your way up, if you are ready to grind and scratch and claw, and if you catch a bit of luck, anything is possible.”

When he started his first job at Trilogy, an enterprise software company, he knew it all and was ready to conquer the world. In retrospect, he was “terribly, utterly naïve” and “totally whiffed” on his golden opportunity.

Here’s what he wished he knew then:

• He knew nothing. In spite of graduating from a top school, there is a “vast difference between studying business and doing business.”

• He didn’t know that he didn’t know anything. This is actually worse than not knowing anything.

• He missed the opportunity to learn. Trilogy had a number of extraordinarily smart and talented folks who went on to accomplish amazing things. Because he believed he already knew everything, he missed the chance to learn from them.

• He thought he was entitled to something. He arrived thinking it was Trilogy’s good fortune to have him. Therefore, he was entitled to be a strategic thinker and leave the daily blocking and tackling to others.

• He was confused about the meaning of hard work. If he was in the office and thinking big thoughts, he must have been working hard. In reality, he should have been doing the heavy lifting of calling potential customers, learning about their problems and presenting Trilogy’s solutions.

Keep these thoughts in mind as you embark on your career. They will help you protect and enhance the return on the investment of time and money you and your parents have made in your college education.•


Kim is the chief operating officer and chief compliance officer for Kirr Marbach & Co. LLC, an investment adviser based in Columbus, Ind. He can be reached at (812) 376-9444 or mickey@kirrmar.com.


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