The 3 Secrets Of Highly Successful Graduates

Updated: March 27, 2019

I graduated during the month of March. So even though colleges and universities now have different graduation months, March will always be “that time of the year” for me.

Maybe that’s the reason why I feel a bit nostalgic today. And likewise, the reason why I feel it’s important for me to share this piece by Reid Hoffman, entitled “The 3 Secrets of Highly Successful Graduates”.

Reid Hoffman who? Well, he’s the co-founder of LinkedIn, the billion-dollar public company that’s helping professionals connect and network all across the globe.

Furthermore, he co-authored a book entitled, The Start-up of You, and below are some of the lessons from that book, as given by him in one of his many presentations.

It’s addressed to college graduates, but there’s a lot of valuable lessons that we can all learn from it. I hope this inspires you today, as much as it did to me.

The 3 Secrets Of Highly Successful Graduates

My name is Reid Hoffman and I’m an entrepreneur and investor.

I cofounded LinkedIn in 2003 with the mission of connecting the world’s professionals, to make them more productive and successful.

I’ve heard the career concerns of students around the world…

…from the millions of students on LinkedIn
…to the super young entrepreneurs I’ve invested in
…to the student leaders who read my book, The Start-up of You

And I’ve noticed a common career concern… THEY DON’T FEEL READY.

College is supposed to prepare you for surviving and thriving in the world of work. But the world of work has changed.

Stable career paths are disappearing. Competition can come from anywhere. And the world continues to change at a relentless pace.

If you are graduating, you may feel anxious. I want you to know THAT’S OKAY.

That uncertainty you feel right now about your future — it won’t ever go away. In an ever-changing world, managing your career is a lifelong process.

When I graduated from undergrad… I thought I knew what I wanted to do. I was wrong. I could not have predicted my career path. It even took me 15 years to realize what I was doing had a name… ENTREPRENEURSHIP.

Along the way, I’ve developed an eye for the patterns of success and failure. And there are at least three things that successful professionals eventually figure out about their careers.

You won’t find themin any of your textbooks. And your school doesn’t teach them. And I’m sure you’d rather not wait 15 years to discover them.

I want to share them with you today:

  1. Competition
  2. Networks
  3. Risk


“How do I bring my different interests together into a career?”

“What should I do if I don’t know what I like?”

“How do I choose between so many different passions?”

All of these are variations of the classic career question: WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE?

But these are the wrong questions to ask. Among other things, these questions focus the attention on YOU, instead of the most important factor… EVERYONE ELSE.

Many people want your dream job. And for anything desirable, there’s competition.

To beat the competition, you need to develop a competitive advantage. But what is it made of? Competitive advantage is:

  1. Assets
  2. Aspirations
  3. Market Realities

Your assets are what you have going for you now. Your aspirations are where you might like to go in the future. And the market realities are what people will actually pay you for.

The best career has you pursuing worthy aspirations, using your assets, while navigating the market realities.

Another classic question you may struggle with… HOW DO I MAKE A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD?

You may think that you, as a recent graduate with limited work experience, don’t have much to offer.

In fact, your existing assets have value, too. You’ll be surprised how valuable your existing skills and connections are to those who don’t have them.

Just ask others: “How can I help?” — And you’ll learn to understand what other people’s needs are. Fulfill needs. Solve problems. And you change the world.


In college, you had dorms, student organizations, classes… building relationships was easy.

But in the real world, you have to learn to proactively build your network. Relationships matter because every job boils down to interacting with people.

People control resources, opportunities, and information. Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person.

The people you spend time with shape who you are and who you become. The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.

The best way to meet new people is via the people you already know. You may not think you know the right people. But your existing network is bigger than you think.

If you’re connected to a couple hundred people on LinkedIn, you’re actually at the center of a network that’s more than 2 million people strong.

In other words, it’s likely that someone you already know, knows someone who could help you. This is the power of the extended network.


Our education system penalizes students for making mistakes. But in the real world, you don’t know what the best plan is until you try. And making mistakes is part of that learning process.

Learn by doing.

Not sure if you can break into the pharmaceutical industry? Spend six months interning at Pfizer, making connections, and see what happens.

Curious whether marketing or product development is a better fit than what you currently do? If you work in a company where those functions exist, offer to help out for free.

That’s exactly what I did at Apple, my first job after grad school. Whatever the situation, actions, not plans, generate useful lessons. Actions help you discover where you want to go and how to get there.

In college, the most successful students make the fewest mistakes. But the most successful professional learn to take intelligent risks.

You may assume that you get career stability by minimizing risk. Ironically, in a changing world, playing it safe is one of the riskiest things you can do.

Rather than avoid risk, take intelligent risks. It will give you a competitive edge.

For example, do not dismiss jobs that pay less in cash, but offer tremendous learnings. Prioritize plans that offer the best chance at learning about yourself and the world.

Do not dismiss a career path just because you keep hearing how risky it is. It probably isn’t as risky as most believe, which means there’s less competition for landing the opportunity.

In these opportunities, the worst-case scenario tends to be survivable.

When the worst case means getting fired, losing a little bit of time or money, or experiencing some discomfort, it is a risk you should be willing to take.

If the worst-case scenario is the serious tarnishing of your reputation, loss of all your economic assets, or something otherwise career-ending, don’t accept that risk.

There will always be uncertainty about career opportunities and risks. The best opportunities are frequently the ones with the most question marks.

When it’s not clear how something will play out, many people avoid it altogether. Take intelligent risks and you will find the opportunities that others miss.

So, congratulations on the hard work you’ve put into your education thus far, but your learning has just begun. Graduation is not the end of learning.

We are all works-in-progress. Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more in our lives and careers.

In the world of work, every day is exam day. If you’re not growing, you’re contracting. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.

Develop your competitive advantage. Build your network. And take intelligent risks.

If not now, when?

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