Dear New Shrink,

I will be graduating from college in a few weeks. I am confident about my career choice but want to be sure that I start off strong. Do you have any suggestions for what I can do to ensure that I have a successful career ahead of me?

Thank you,

Need to Succeed

Dear Succeed,

Congratulations! Completing college is a very important milestone in your professional and personal development. You are smart to consider the benefits of starting off on the right foot and creating a strong base for a successful future. A major part of achieving career success is knowing your strengths and your weaknesses. The more you know about yourself the more conscious action you can take to maximize your strengths, develop yourself, and turn weaknesses into strengths. Increasing your self-awareness is an important part of building a successful career and professional future.

As you prepare for graduation, this is the perfect time to consider all of your accomplishments. Start a list of your most memorable triumphs over your past four years. Consider your success in specific classes or projects, volunteer and community service work, extracurricular activities, part-time work and internships, and also with your friendships and professional relationships. Include the bigger things but also focus on your smaller victories, too.

Now consider your accomplishments and think about the qualities or strengths that led you to that success. Not only should you recognize when you’ve done well, but also how you got yourself to that point. Break down each accomplishment into two to three things that allowed you to be successful along with two to three qualities that you gained from the experience. This exercise will help you to start a list of strengths; these are the talents that will help you get through the more difficult times.

It is also important to know your weaknesses. Although it may be difficult to process, it can be enormously helpful to create a list of failures, too. Consider experiences, projects, events, and tasks where you were not successful and then consider what went wrong. Expand by thinking about what elements were involved, the timing of the event, your extra commitments, and other important factors. This list of deterring factors can help you to become aware of triggers or events that may keep you from being successful. While we cannot always control our environment, it is quite useful to know the factors that consistently appear before or during failure. The key to making the most of a failed experience is to learn from that experience. Assess your list of unsuccessful endeavors and consider what you might do differently next time.

In addition to knowing your strengths and weaknesses, it is also important to know where you’re headed. While you may have a sense of your immediate career goals, this is not always enough to build a successful, long-term career. Consider creating a career timeline. Physically drawing out your future can provide a great visual to keep you motivated. Starting small, consider concrete goals you would like to meet over the next year. Then expand to the next three years, then five years. Consider your industry, company, position or rank, salary, and other important factors. Finally, add in broader career milestones for the next 10, 15, 20, and 25 years.

Once you have a rough idea of some of the positions you would like to hold in the future you can start to determine what skills and qualities are needed to attain those positions. Start by reviewing job boards and company websites for openings in those areas. The job description will give you a good sense of the required tasks and the current qualifications required for such positions. Knowing what is required will help you to focus your efforts on gaining the skills and qualities needed to succeed and achieve an advanced opportunity. Beyond knowing what is essential you should also consider the specific steps you will take to gain those special talents. Consider adding specific training, advanced education, and other related endeavors to your career timeline.

Finally, surround yourself with positive people who will help you reach your goals. Find a mentor who will encourage and motivate you while teaching you the basics of the industry. Later in your career find a young professional who you can mentor and support. Nurture the relationships you have with others and do not take anyone for granted. Having a strong support network is the key to success.

KATRINA DAVY is a Santa Monica-based professional career counselor who holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Send your questions to All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters! Visit us online at

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