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Three simple things you need to know when starting your career

Former executive vice-president of Telus, educator, adviser and author of Be Different or Be Dead.

It's kind of confusing really. You spend a number of years at school learning a subject and getting good marks.

You expect to land a good job and start a rewarding career, but more often than not, it doesn't happen that way.

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The problem is that the school taught you content – not how to leverage that content in the real world.

It doesn't teach you how to compete for jobs in a crowd of people who can all claim they have mastered the same content with equal or better marks.

In fact, school does you a disservice by raising your expectations for success rather than equipping you with the tools and skills to start your journey.

And there is a good reason why the school doesn't deliver for you: It can't.

Schools are replete with context experts, not career experts. They don't have scholars who have actually achieved amazing results in organizations.

I have been fortunate to have learned some cool things that will help you not only get a job but propel yourself to a brilliant career.

If you take these three actions, you will have an advantage over others in obtaining the job you want and the career you covet.

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1. Shed the crowd behaviour you have been taught at school. School teaches you and everyone else in the job hunt the same things: facts, formulae, interpersonal communications, problem-solving methods – pedagogy that is the accepted norm and practised by all.

And that's exactly the problem when it comes to being successful. If you look like the other 100 job applicants, why should the recruiting organization pick you? If there is nothing special about you, if you don't stand out in a way that is meaningful and relevant, you will be ignored.

Standing out from everyone else is about determining how to be different and discovering an approach that no one else uses. For example, it could be a unique résumé or possessing intimate knowledge of the recruiting organization – because you were prepared to put in the time to study them.

The point is to look for a twist or edge to what you do that will get the attention of others.

2. Start building your network well before you begin your job search. Get connected early to people you believe will be able to help you. To a large extent, job hunting and career development is a "community sport" requiring a synchronized effort to open up opportunities and present the candidate to an audience who is leaning their way.

Choose your connections wisely and methodically build relationships with them. Don't expect that every follower will be useful. Research their backgrounds and reach out to those who have the résumé that resonates with your career choice. Be patient and persevere because a successful connection requires time and energy to cultivate.

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3. Search for a mentor who has done stuff. This is critical for the career "newbie." You don't want a subject matter expert for guidance and advice, rather, you want to rely on someone who has actually achieved something. Someone who has a reputation for turning a brave idea into a crude deed.

People who intellectualize a problem aren't that useful in a practical world characterized by uncertainty and unpredictability; on the other hand, individuals who have a successful track record of achieving success amidst chaos are the gems to covet.

Remember, what got you to graduation won't guarantee a winning career; you must learn new skills to make your academic pedigree work for you.

Learn and and practice these three steps – and watch your career take off.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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