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Deb Hornell shares what she wishes she’d known as a new graduate

Deb Hornell

Deb Hornell

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Updated: July 7, 2013 9:04PM

We’ve all been there: Armed with a degree from high school, college or a trade school, excited to finally be an adult and earn some real money. But we all find out pretty quickly that nothing quite prepares you for the realities of the workplace — how to get along with people, how to use your talents to make a difference and how to juggle work, family and other obligations.

I didn’t have a handy reference manual when I entered the workforce, but I’ve since learned some things that may help accelerate the transition for the new graduates out there. While everyone travels their own path through life, these three principles can help you enter the workplace with a more realistic attitude and ensure that your employer is glad they said yes to hiring you.

1) Strive for a full life, not balance. There’s a lot of talk about “work-life balance,” which implies that there’s some magic formula that, once attained, will make you happy and fulfilled. This is simply not realistic. Work and life can’t be balanced, because work is part of a life full of many activities. There’s no one equation that works for everyone, and as you go through different chapters of your life, your priorities will shift. Instead, think about what you want your life to be full of. Work? Family and friends? Volunteer activities? Travel? Then, make choices about how you will integrate those important activities into every chapter of your life. Place your energy and your effort where it will pay off.

2) Sell yourself without being boastful. With good jobs in scarce supply, smart graduates should approach every job search prepared to answer one important question: “Why should anyone hire you?” If you can’t answer that question, don’t expect a prospective employer to be able to do so either. It’s important to be clear about the value you bring to the workplace — skills, expertise, perspective and relationships. Practice describing how your strengths and accomplishments can impact business results. Learn to pitch new ideas with a focus on the impact to the bottom-line, which implies that you know what drives the business. And make a good impression on everyone with whom you interact, because that will begin to build you a positive reputation for the future.

3) Learn to deal with disappointments at work. Not everything will work out as you planned — companies change, bosses change, job responsibilities change. Be clear about what’s important to you, so you can keep things in perspective. Most business decisions are made with regard to how the business can grow and make a profit, not whether they will make you happy. Instead of feeling frustrated or resentful, consider what you can learn from disappointments. Harboring regrets anchors you in the past, and prevents you from embracing new and different opportunities in front of you. Control what you can: the results you deliver, your relationships, the choices you make and the reputation you earn.

Deb Hornell is the founder and president of Hornell Partners, Inc., which helps local and national companies meet their facilitation and organization development needs. She is also the author of the book, “Good Things for a Full Life,” published earlier this year.

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