The best career move high school seniors should make right now.

Most high school seniors will graduate within the next 30 days. High school commencement is one of the most exciting events in a human’s life. And with good reason. The best, most interesting chapters of your story start after high school. Unless, of course, you were in an epic high school-based movie. In which case, it’s all down hill from here.  (You can check the 50 Greatest High School Movies of all time here to make sure you weren’t in one).

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An Open Letter to High School Seniors.

Dear Seniors,

Four to ten years from now, when you graduate from college, finish your military obligations, or give up on your Hollywood/Nashville/Lottery dream, you will start focusing on your real career. When you do, everyone will tell you that you need to start building your network.

But they are wrong. You need to start building your network now. So before you throw your binders in the trash, your graduation cap in the air, and carve your initials into he wood paneling of the senior lounge, you should start building your professional network.

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WTF Is A Professional Network?

Your professional network is a collection of the people you know that may be able to positively impact your professional career. The people in your network, or community, will be able to help with career advice, finding a job, and connecting you to other people and businesses that are important to your career advancement. You will also be expected to provide the same sort of help for others in your network. Because it takes a village to keep a child from moving back into their parents’ basement.

So Who Are My Connections?

Your connections are your friends, your family members and your teachers. Your connections are your friends’ parents. They are the adults you know from church, and the extra curricular activities you’ve participated in. They are the kids you competed both with, and against, in sports. They are the kids you know from camp (like that one quirky girl who played the flute).

Starting A Connection Collection.

The best career move high school seniors should make right now is to create a profile on  LinkedIn, and start collecting your connections. LinkedIn is an online social networking site for the business community. And right now, before you graduate, is the best time to start collecting your network. By starting now, you will collect the most connections. And the more connections you properly maintain, the stronger your network will be. It’s kinda like being popular in high school. Only this type of popularity can dramatically impact your salary (your salary is the adult version of an allowance).

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Grow As You Go

You will want to continue collecting your friends and acquaintances throughout college, trade school, military service, or your creative exploratory period. Every time you meet someone new, don’t just think about adding them to Snap or Insta.  Sure, do that too. But definitely add them to LinkedIn. Granted, the filters on LinkedIn aren’t as good as Snapchat. But having a good job makes you look better than any photographic editing or augmented reality can.

It’s All About The Network, (and the Benjamins)

Eventually everyone is going to tell you to network and build your network, and that it is all about your network. That’s just an adult way of saying:

Stay in touch with the people you know, because it will connect you to opportunities, advice and endorsements that will prove highly beneficial down the road.

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Why Start As A High School Senior?

You know a lot of people now that you are going to forget. Those kids you go to school with are going to do amazing things with remarkable organizations. And they are going to have opportunities for you, if you stay in touch. You are also going to have opportunities for them. Even better, in the real world, there are things called referral bonuses. Which means you can make extra money for helping your organization find good talent. #chaching

Monitoring Your Classmates

Adding your friends to LinkedIn is like putting a tracking device on them. It will allow you to collect intel on each person, like where they went to school, what they majored in, and where they worked after college.

It also puts a tracking device on you, so that others will remember your educational track, your career path and your special interests and activities. That way your connections will know when their opportunities cross paths with your skills, interests and abilities.

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The Adult Rock Stars Around You

Your neighbors, teachers and friends’ parents are more successful and connected than you know. Four or five years from now you could end up in a job interview with them. Or with their friends or relatives. When that happens, you will want every advantage you can get. Like a good endorsement from someone who knew you were always such a good kid. You were always such a good kid, right?

Trust Me. I Know.

I started my career in advertising as a copywriter. But I always envisioned becoming an entrepreneur and someday starting my own ad agency. Twenty years later, that’s exactly what I did. In 2016 I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.

You know who my very first client was? My friend Dan Richards, whom I have known since 7th grade. Dan is the Founder and  CEO of a badass company called Global Rescue.  Which means that Dan and I went from high school classmates, and football and track teammates, to trusted business partners. We have helped each other launch companies, and have exchanged hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of services.

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Key Takeaway

They say the best day to plant a tree is 20 years ago. And the second best day is today. The  same holds true for building your network. Start now by collecting your connections before you leave high school. But if you are already in college, serving your country, or in the workforce, and you haven’t been building your network, start today.

There are amazingly talented people all around you. So start collecting them today. It’s the very best way to assure an abundance of everything you will need later in your career. By doing so may help one of your high school classmates find their dream job. Or launch their own business. I know. Because it happened to me.

-Adam Albrecht

Founder & CEO of The Weaponry


*If you know a high school senior who is about to leave the nest, please share this post with them. If you are a teacher wondering how to keep your students’ attention over the last few days, consider sharing this with your class. And if you want to connect with me, I’d love that. But you might want to read this post I wrote about connecting on LinkedIn first.

 

 

 

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Why Wheel Of Fortune is the perfect interview game.

I like watching Wheel of Fortune. It’s not because of Pat Sajak’s perma-tan, perfect hair or witty commentary. And it’s not because of Vanna White and her seemingly irreplaceable skills at touching lighted rectangles. Although 30 years ago that was a compelling draw.

The best part about Wheel of Fortune is trying to solve the puzzles. In case you hadn’t noticed, life is one big puzzle. As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am constantly trying to solve client problems. That’s why I am hunting for world-class problem solvers the way Imelda Marcos hunted for footwear.

The Interview

Lately I’ve been thinking about introducing WOF into the interview process. Because the game show offers valuable insights into a candidate’s approach to solving real world puzzles. Not only is this kind of problem solving valuable in marketing, it translates to success in business, finance, medicine, auto repair, courtship and just about every career Sally Struthers might mention.

The 3 kinds of contestants on The Wheel of Fortune.

Early Solvers.

My WOF heroes are the people who solve the puzzle in the least amount of time with the  least amount of information. I’m always impressed by those who find the answer well before I do. They are the see-ers of the unseen. These people are clever, insightful and daring. You should hire as many of these types as you can get your hands on (in an HR appropriate way).

Middle Solvers

The majority of the puzzle solvers take a crack at the answer somewhere in the middle of the fill. They offer an answer once many letters are exposed, and the puzzle is relatively easy to solve. At this point the viewer at home either has the answer or has several of the words figured out, but still fails to see a couple of un-purchased vowels. These are your average people. If you fill your organization with these average people you can build an average company. I would rather go bankrupt.

The Reader

At the tail end of the spectrum are the readers. These are the people who don’t attempt to solve the puzzle until every letter is filled in, and they can literally read the entire answer. These are the types that only bet on a sure thing. They are the belt and suspenders types. But Wheel Of Fortune favors the bold.

Please don’t be the reader. When you wait until the answer is obvious you have lost all competitive advantage. Because when there is no risk there is no reward.

Key Takeaway

The further upstream you can solve a problem the move valuable you are. There is a significant market for those who can see the unseen, forecast a trend, or alert a team to an opportunity or catastrophe hiding in the shadows.

In business development, you can’t wait until the account you want goes into review and invites you and every Tom, Dick and Mary to pitch. To offer value you have to be able to solve a problem before the answer is flashing in the middle of Times Square. Or before Vanna has flipped her final consonant.

How to establish a useful workplace dress code.

The seasons have finally changed across the northern third of America. We can safely put our Icelandic sweaters, mukluks and buffalo robes away for the next 6 months. It’s time to bust out our warm weather wardrobes. Which means revisiting an old issue in the workplace: dress code.

My First Job

Before I started my first job in advertising I had no idea what to wear. So I called the agency for guidance. They assigned me a Fashion Mentor named Shannon. She called me and told me that, ‘polos and khakis were pretty much standard’. While I dressed respectably on my first day, I saw that the creative team wore jeans and t-shirts. So I quickly adopted the more comfortable creative attire. Thanks for nothing Fashion Mentor Shannon.

The Weaponry

Today I face a new challenge. As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I now have to set the dress code for the entire agency. This spring is the first time we have had warm weather since we moved into our new office in the fall. So I have to determine what types of summer clothing are acceptable, or preferable. The challenge is that they didn’t cover establishing a dress code at the Harvard Business School. Trust me. I read a book about it (Ahead Of The Curve).

I considered writing an explicit dress code. I thought it would be fun to have rules like a strict English boarding school, that said things like, The hem of the broadcloth covering your lower hemisphere must fall within a ruler’s width of your knee’s equator.

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At The Weaponry, a team t-shirt is always up to code.

But I don’t believe in a complicated dress code. Instead, I believe in a very simple rule of thumb. Here is the dress code at The Weaponry:

Dress the way you want people to see you.

Breaking It Down.

This is a bit more complex than it may seem at first glance. Sometimes this direction means dressing up. It means looking professional, polished and well-coordinated.  Sometimes this means looking more interesting, more fashionable or trendy. And sometimes this means dressing down. Some people should look more relaxed. Or more creative. Because you need to dress for the role you want to play in the minds’ of your co-workers and clients.

To that end, I have worn jeans to every client meeting I have had for the past decade. Because I believe clients don’t want their ad agency creatives to look like bankers and lawyers. Then again, they don’t want you to look homeless either. But I’ve found there is a fairly wide field to play with between the two.

Key Takeaway

Ignore the limits of your current workplaces dress code. Instead, dress the way you want people to see you. Make a statement. Use your wardrobe choices as sign that you are ready for the next step in responsibility. That may mean not partaking in Casual Friday. It may mean wearing an elective tie. Or bow tie. But it may also mean that you rock the Ramones T-shirt for the next client meeting.

Don’t ignore your clothes. You can bet your clients and coworkers won’t ignore what you are wearing. So unless you work at a nudist colony, think about your threads. Because every day on the job is a day in costume.

Are you really in control of your career?

It was December of 1999. The world was facing a possible Y2K apocalypse, and I was surrounded by cranberries. I had written a national TV commercial for Northland Cranberry Juice and was now preparing to shoot the spot in their hometown, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids (just in case you’ve never been there) is to cranberries what Nashville is to country music.

The premise of the commercial we were shooting was that the honest, hardworking people of Wisconsin Rapids put 100% into everything they do. So they would never consider putting anything less than 100% juice into a bottle of Northland. The same could not be said for those villains at Ocean Spray. Their cranberry cocktails ranged from just 17% to 27% juice. Cut to the close up of the Ocean Spray ingredient label, and cue the horror movie music.

The Director

But this story is not about juice. It is about the director. Ashley Lazarus. While Ashley Lazarus is one of the most beautiful names I have ever heard, it belongs to a bear of a man. A South African man. A man best known in America for launching the Saturn car brand with the iconic Spring in Springhill commercials. In other words, Ashley had mad directing skillz.

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Ashley Lazarus and a camera that won’t fit in your pocket.

Location Scouting

My first two days with Ashley were spent scouting for locations to shoot the commercial.  We were looking for the most interesting locations in and around Wisconsin Rapids to capture on film.

The conversation

While driving between locations in the Wisconsin countryside, Ashley, who was in his 60s, turned to me and slowly asked in his deep, South African accent, ‘Adam, how old are you?’

I replied, ’26’.

Not only will I never forget what he said next, it helped steer the course of my career, and my life.

Ashley continued,

‘Adam, eventually you must open your own advertising agency. You will be promised great positions in your career. You may even be offered them. But eventually all creatives are either passed over or forced out of agencies. The only way for you to remain in control of your career is to own your own agency.’

I had dreamed of owning my own agency since I first started my career three years earlier. But now, at 26 years old, I was told I had no choice. If I wanted to be in control of my career and my life’s path, I would have to start my own advertising agency and create my own opportunities.

That advice stuck in my head like a cocklebur to corduroy. I believed Ashley was right. Over the next 15 years I was promoted from Copywriter, to Senior Writer, to Associate Creative Director, to Creative Director, to Executive Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. But I never forgot what Ashley said. And I wanted the ultimate control over my career path.

The Weaponry

In 2016, when I was 42 years old, I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. I also launched this blog to chronicle the entire journey (if you’d like to follow along at home consider subscribing). Today, I’d like Ashley to know that I listened, appreciated and followed the advice he gave me in the back of that SUV in Wisconsin, Rapids in 1999.

Key Takeaway

What Ashley said about my career holds true for you too. Your career path, and your life path will be determined by someone else if you don’t take control of it. You too should start your own business, or side hustle, or consulting gig. Prepare your own plan B before you need it. It’s the key to writing your own script with your own happy ending.

Who you should always compare yourself to.

I always say something ridiculous at the beginning of our quarterly meetings. Ok, even typing that sentence sounds ridiculous. For someone who started his advertising career as a precocious young copywriter, the idea of being a business owner who ‘begins quarterly meetings’ sounds kinda crazy. But I digress.

At the beginning of each quarter meeting at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I say,

“The Weaponry is a (insert ridiculously large revenue number) business, with (insert ridiculously large number) of offices, and (insert ridiculously large number) of employees. Our job, ladies and gentlemen, is to close the gap between The Weaponry I just described, and The Weaponry that exists today.”

We then identify the most important things the business must add, remove, implement, enhance or change in order to close the gap between who we are today and our ideal self. We use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), as spelled out in Gino Wickman’s book Traction to help us do this.

Every Day I Write The Book.

We compare ourselves to The Ideal Weaponry constantly.  It’s our version of What Would Jesus Do? When making decisions about hiring, copier machines, our website, or business development, we constantly asks, What Would The Fully Formed, Fully Realized Version of The Weaponry Do. You know, the classic WWTFFFRVOTWD.

By creating a strong, tangible and detailed vision of your future self, you can mentally google any questions about your ideal state. Just ask yourself, ‘How does Future State You handle performance reviews?’ Or ‘How does Future State You invoice, or develop a pipeline of new business opportunities?’ When you ask such questions, you’ll usually find the answers sitting right there at the top of the search results. Because your ideal state is optimized for mental SEO.

I’m Talking About You Too (And Maybe U2)

This works for individuals too. By creating a strong image of your future self, you always have a great model to follow. When you stand back-to-back with your future self,  you can easily find the gaps in knowledge, professionalism, patience, trust or reliability that you need to close. This helps you focus your efforts on acquiring new knowledge, skills, and maybe updating your wardrobe.

Key Takeaway.

Don’t compare your business to a competitor. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s. The only organization you should be benchmarking against is your organization’s ideal state.  The only person you should be jealous of is Fully Formed You. These are the only comparisons that matter. And they are the only comparisons that you can do anything about. That’s why the guy sitting in my chair at my company’s quarterly meeting didn’t completely surprise me. I’ve been comparing myself to him my entire life.

Why you should take more big chances.

I would never take candy from a stranger. But I will take life lessons from anyone. Even Rick Pitino. Pitino, the controversial former basketball coach at the University of Louisville (and Kentucky, The Knicks, The Celtics and Providence) is back in the news again. Not for having naughty relations in a restaurant with the wife of his assistant coach. Or setting up recruits with ‘hired lady friends’. He is back in the headlines today, rumored to be a potential new head coach of the NBA Milwaukee Bucks.

What Rick Told Me.

All this Pitino-talk reminds me of an interesting story he once told me. That’s right. As I was driving to work in Atlanta, Rick told me about his first encounter with the 3-point shot. No, Rick and I weren’t carpooling to pass the notorious Atlanta traffic. I was listening to his audio book, Success Is A Choice.  

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Rick Pitino, checking out the scoreboard of his life.

The Power Of The 3-Pointer

Pitino thought the introduction of the 3-point shot would have a significant impact on college basketball. In fact, the first year the 3-point shot was introduced to the college game he told his team that he expected them to take fifteen 3-point shots in every game.

The Russians

Then a funny thing happened. His team played an exhibition game against the Russian national team. And the Russian team attempted twenty-one 3-pointers, in the first half!  Of course many of those shots were nothing but nyet. (Sorry, I could nyet help myself.)

Even though Coach Pitino knew the 3-pointer would have a significant impact on the game of basketball, he grossly underestimated it. Probably because he was surrounded by athletes, not mathletes. Because shooting 50% from 2-point land gets the same result as shooting 33% from 3-point land.

50% from 2-Pointville = 33% from 3-Pointtown

Bigger Rewards

This math holds true in business and in our personal lives too. Taking smaller chances reaps smaller rewards. Taking larger chances reaps larger rewards. So stretch, grow, try, and learn. You can attempt shots with lower percentages and still enjoy a higher payout because of the higher value of each shot made. Don’t limit yourself to the easy stuff. Sooner or later you will regret it.

So step back and think bigger. Try the hard things. And pretty soon you’ll find you’re success rate on the hard stuff will catch up to the success rate on the easier stuff. You’ll be lighting up your own scoreboard. And when you do, you can tell me all about it as I drive.

*For more life lessons I’ve learned from winners and sinners consider subscribing to this blog.

You are NEVER going to be in my network unless you do this first.

LinkedIn is an amazing professional resource. It’s offers a great way to further your professional development through education and association. Thank you Reid Hoffman for creating LinkedIn. But I’m sorry to say that I wouldn’t accept a LinkedIn request from you. I get requests from people wanting to join my network almost every day. But I have a clear philosophy that guides my networking on the platform. It goes like this:

I only Link In with you if I know you.

I can’t tell if this is a really simple and obvious philosophy, or if it is a radical departure from the norm. But I am always surprised by how many requests I get with absolutely no introduction or context as to why we should be LinkedIn. I find this very odd. Which is only surpassed in oddness by people who send me an introductory note trying to sell me something. I hate that. It’s like be approached by a stranger whose opening line to you is, ‘Hey! Let’s have sex.’ It tells me everything I need to know about you. And your sex.

My Network As A Garden

I think of my LinkedIn network as a garden. Everyone in my LinkedIn garden is there because I planted them. So if anyone in my garden says, ‘Hey Adam, (yes, these are talking plants) I see there is a Bob Smith growing in this garden. Tell me about Bob.’ I say, ‘Ah, Bobby is one of my college track & field teammates. He grew up in little Marshall, Wisconsin, near Madison. He used to raise ferrets, and he could put the shot farther than most people can throw a fit. He is an art teacher. And he makes amazing pottery. I own two of his pieces.’ Suddenly Bob Smith goes from the most generic name in America to a specific human with colorful details.

What strangers need to do first.

I want to be able to vouch for everyone in my network. Including you. It’s how my network becomes valuable. This doesn’t mean that we can’t meet and develop a relationship on LinkedIn. But if you want to join my collection of professional contacts, we must have contact first.

Here’s how it works.

  1. You send me a LinkedIn request.
  2. You add a note about why you think it would be good to connect.
  3. We set up a call or a chocolate milk meeting (I don’t drink coffee).
  4. We talk, and you don’t try to sell me anything or exhibit psychologically deviant behavior.
  5. I accept your LinkedIn request.

This process works because I make connections quickly. I can learn a lot about you in an initial conversation. Then, when someone in my network asks me about you I can share your story.

The Right Way.

Here is a request I received recently. It is a great example of the right way to introduce yourself to a stranger on LinkedIn:

Adam -We don’t know each other, yet. I moved here from Minneapolis and I am hoping to connect with a few fun people. My sister-in-law sent me your blog. You seem fun. -Jennifer

This stared a dialog. I discovered that Jennifer is related to one of my former coworkers (that’s co-worker, not cow orker). I have invited her to stop by The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, for an introduction. After that, we can be LinkedIn.

Key Takeaway

Don’t let just anyone into your professional network on LinkedIn. It devalues your network because there is nothing that distinguishes those inside your group from those outside your group. When you are sending LinkedIn request don’t be lazy. Don’t be random. Be purposeful and personal with your introductions. And for Reid’s sake, please don’t try to sell anything in your intro. It’s a turnoff.

Do you have a LinkedIn philosophy? Please share it in the comments section. If you want to know my other philosophies consider subscribing to this blog. If you want to know about my philosophy that Vanilla Ice tweeted about, click here.