• Shane Thomas

20 Career Tips for 2020 Graduates

With new grads coming into the industry this month I thought it would be 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. 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 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.

5. Be Open Minded Things are changing faster than ever in Ag. Don’t shut down new ideas, ask “why not”, think outside the box & 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 much 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 critically 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.

10. Identify Role Models Mentors are great, but not everyone has the luxury of finding someone to mentor them directly. I’ve aspired to to learn from many, learning tons from people I’ve never met through their podcasts, articles, Tweets etc. This can be people 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 90% 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 You 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 aren't 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.

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. 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. 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.

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.

Many people will argue that there are other aspects that could be gone through and some will say this could be condensed down to 5 tips. My aim was to go a bit deeper than 5 cliche's, but hold back on going overboard.

I hope this works as a framework of reference for new professionals and a refresher for experienced professionals. Please share with your colleagues, direct reports, family and friends.

If you would like to read further on this topic, 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

The Real ABC's: Always Be Capturing

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