The litany of LinkedIn posts over the last few days as the Class of 2020 receives their exam results has got the Gradguide team thinking. The benefit of hindsight has enabled us to start thinking about what we might have done differently and what advice we would give to our younger fresher-faced selves.

As members of the graduating Class of 2017, we’ve had three years to look back on since we’ve left college — with each of us having varying experiences during that time. With that in mind, now seems like a good time to reflect and put together the 4 most important pieces of advice that we wish we’d known when we were starting our own careers.

1. Find out what sets you apart 🙋🏻‍♂️

Last year the number of students in higher education climbed to a record high — with almost 250,000 people enrolled in a third-level course. 44,000 of those were new entrants to higher education while just over 70,000 people graduated with either undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications. Of those who graduated with honours degrees, around 20% received first-class honours while almost half received 2.1 degrees.

What this means for you as a graduate is that you’re entering a highly competitive pool of candidates who are all applying for, as things stand, a limited number of entry-level jobs. It’s not enough to just be good at what you do or to have achieved high grades — you also need to think about what makes you special. What is on your CV that isn’t on anyone else's? Are there activities, hobbies or volunteer work that you do that you’re passionate about? Do you have other life experiences that set you apart?

Define what your value proposition is and focus on the traits that separate you from others and if you don’t have any — start working on them now. It’s never been easier to pick up a new skill or hobby that will make you a more attractive commodity in the job market.

2. Adopt a growth mindset 🧠

You might be forgiven for thinking, having just finished three or four years in college as well as six years in secondary school and eight years before that in primary school, that you are at the finish line. However, this could not be further from the truth. The reality is that you’re at the beginning of your educational journey and the only way to guarantee that your career will not only be a long but successful one is to maintain a curious outlook.

Learning creates knowledge. Knowledge creates expertise. Expertise creates value. Figure out how to add value to other peoples’ lives, and the money will come — irrespective of what path you take. Read books, do online courses, listen to podcasts. Do whatever you can to ensure that you’re constantly challenging yourself and growing. The rate of technological change means that skills that were crucial ten years ago, while not completely outdated, are less relevant than before. As Alvin Toffler put it:

“The illiterate of the 21st century are not going to be those who cannot read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

3. Grow and nurture your network 🌐

Who you know matters. Often, you won’t know the importance of having a good network until you need one, at which point it’ll be too late. In time, a great network will prove to be the difference between landing a job and not — so make sure you invest in yours by focusing on building long-term relationships. LinkedIn is the most obvious resource you can use to expand and leverage your network but there are also countless offline opportunities too.

You can create lasting relationships and help other people by going into each interaction asking, ‘What can I do to help?’ as opposed to ‘What can this person do for me?’ Treat people how you’d like to be treated yourself. Not because they’ll always treat you well in return, because they won’t, but because it’s the right thing to do. If you need to step on someone to get to the top, you’ll likely meet them again on the way down — and people tend to have long memories.

4. Study successful people 🔍

Your definition of what a successful person will look like will vary depending on what field you’re in — so it’s your job to find these people and try and learn from them. They’ve obviously figured something out to get where they are and have undoubtedly made mistakes along the way. Seek out those whose work or lifestyle you’d like to emulate and connect with them. It’s nigh-on impossible to be prepared for everything that comes your way. In fact, trying to be prepared for every eventuality traps a lot of people at the beginning of their careers.

Oftentimes, people are more than happy to help out those who were once in their shoes. Try to find yourself a mentor, be it a family member or a colleague, who you can ask questions to and seek advice from. It’s crucial to also ensure that you’re being a good mentee. Respect the time of those who are helping you by asking intelligent and thoughtful questions and be open to feedback, learning, and criticism.