Last semester on one assignment I gave my students an option to write about the Corner Office interviews in the Sunday New York Times, and every single student in that class chose that option. What’s that all about?
In the Business section each Sunday, reporter Adam Bryant interviews a CEO, simple as that. They come from a wide range of businesses and non-profits, and the last few questions in each interview offer advice to students and recent graduates. Plain talk about launching a career, being serious about self-improvement and professional development, and more. Judging by the reaction of my students last semester, at IUSB young people are hungry for more insight about how to make the most of their lives.
The Corner Office interviews are available for free each Sunday on the NY Times website, in the Business section, and the archive goes back for years to the very first interview. It’s hard to think of a field that isn’t represented.
The first few questions are always about how the CEO was raised–family influences, first jobs, those first life lessons. Then through the middle of each interview, questions turn to how the CEO faced early career challenges, built the necessary skills, learned lessons from mistakes and from mentors and went on to create a mature leadership style. All of those answers are interesting and useful to young people, but the final third of each interview turns more directly to advice for traditional college-age folks, questions like these:
How do you conduct interviews? What do you look for? What advice do you have for recent graduates?
Once in a great while an interview comes off sounding kind of stock–like the CEO has been reading one particular business self-help book for so long that the only thing that comes out is a sound bite from that book. But that’s very rare–Adam Bryant chooses CEOs and edits interviews too carefully for that to be a problem more than about once every year or two.
This week’s CEO, Cindy Whitehead, sets a good example. Here’s her discussion of early career advice:
What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?
I tell people to walk into your boss’s office in the first week and say, “I want to be great at this. I’m here to add value. I’d love any opportunity to learn.” If you’re sitting in front of me and telling me that you want to be great, I’m going to believe you.
Why don’t more people do that?
Because when you show up out of college, you think you’re there to learn the rules, and what you’re really there to learn is how to contribute. But you’re in an unfamiliar environment, you’re sort of feeling your way, and you would never have the audacity to say that to your boss.
But I think it will be a defining moment if you decide that you are there for a reason and you have a lot to offer. You need to declare that you’re ready to offer it.
That’s well-aimed, I think–there’s a real need for a young person to outgrow the passivity that a good portion of US schooling and even higher education rewards. Possibly we should ask our students more questions about what they need and want as they launch themselves into careers, adulthood, and active citizenship.
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