5 best tips to college graduates from successful Tampa Bay businesspeople

First and foremost, to those just graduating from college: Congratulations! Now you face different tests. Stuff like getting a decent job. Controlling your costs (and spending). Weaning yourself from the Bank of Mom & Dad. Learning smarter ways to do things at a young age. And not losing your sense of adventure along the way, even in this precarious economy.

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There's a ton of college grad advice out there. I'll touch on five suggestions that may yield a few ideas you have not yet considered. Why are knowing how to cook and telling good stories so key? Read on.

For input, I asked a range of Tampa Bay's smart business people — money experts, CEOs, top lawyers, people who have made big career changes — to offer their best personal advice.

They include Alex Sink, Florida's former chief financial officer (with two kids about to hit the job market); Donald Eastman, Eckerd College president; former Tech Data Corp. CEO Steve Raymund; eMason CEO Jane Mason; Fowler White Boggs law firm president Rhea Law; SunTrust Bank of Tampa Bay CEO Allen Brinkman; former financier-turned-artist Donna Gordon; Emerge Tampa leader Carissa Caricato; and area financial advisers Ray Ferrara in Clearwater, Helen Huntley in St. Petersburg and Laura Waller in Tampa.

They responded (thanks to all) and here's the best of the best.

5. Getting a job: If you have one already, bravo! If you have one that's not perfect, hurray, anyway. Finding work is tough. Don't have a job? Don't panic.

Says Eastman: "Most people don't find their ideal job until they've had a half-dozen or so. So, do the best job possible at each one because your opportunities so often come from demonstrating your skill and commitment at the last one."

Still looking? "Network, network, network!" Gordon says. "Approach every contact with the thought of 'and how can I reciprocate?' "

And don't be shy, urges Sink. "Use your connections aggressively. That means your college's career center, alumni networks, your parents' friends. You will be surprised at how someone you might least expect will reach out to help a young person."

4. Spending and saving: Got student loans? Figure out a realistic budget to pay them off. Avoid credit cards. Counsels Waller: "Always live below your means. It keeps you from getting in trouble. Times can change overnight, as we saw in 2008."

You say you can't save yet? Nonsense. Save a little each paycheck to build up an emergency fund (do it via payroll deduction and it's less painful).

3. Building skills: The top suggestions: Learn a second language and improve your computer skills. Here's a key tip from Huntley: "Learn to cook. Make restaurants an occasional treat instead of a regular routine." Home cooking costs less and is better for you.

Here's a gem from Raymund: "Take some courses in basic business computer tools, like Excel and PowerPoint. A lot of success in business derives from good storytelling skills. The ability to create your own compelling visual aids can strengthen your case."

And here's practical advice from Caricato: "Join Emerge Tampa Bay (www.emergetampabay.org) to mingle with other young professionals across diverse industries, and take advantage of the Protégé mentoring program."

2. Positive attitude: It may sound lame, but this one really counts. And it's easier to start out with one than change a sourpuss outlook later. Says Brinkman: "Be a nice person. It sounds so simple that it's almost too obvious to notice. Look around at the people you like."

Mason urges plunging into a job (and life). "In all you do, be present, aware and get involved!"

Rhea Law urges a little charity. "Embrace change and be a catalyst for innovation," she said. "You have seen tremendous advances during the time of your education. Help ready others for the advances of the future."

1. Finally, know yourself: Sure, everybody says, Follow your passion. But Brinkman tells why. "Too often I have new grads that have focused so much on a job they feel makes the most money. They either peak early in their career or become so disenchanted with an industry that they leave without knowing what it could have offered if they would have followed their passion."

Brinkman also has wise words about really doing your best. "I see grads who have all the 'potential' in the world, but their tombstone will read that they had a lot of potential. Those with a modicum of intelligence can be very successful. Take your 'gifts' and max them out. I'm shocked every day by people with little doing a lot and people with a lot doing little."

I'll leave the final advice to Law because it's my best suggestion as well. Graduation's great. But never, ever, stop learning.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

5 best tips to college graduates from successful Tampa Bay businesspeople 05/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 13, 2011 8:40pm]

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