Dave Kerpen | Recent College Grads: Master These 15 Simple Skills
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Recent College Grads: Master These 15 Simple Skills

Recent College Grads: Master These 15 Simple Skills

College graduates: Congratulations on your degrees! I got mine 16 years ago this month at Boston University, and so I thought that, today, I’d share with you 15 simple things I’ve learned to do since college. Some of them are more serious than others, and some come with more stories and experiences than others, but I hope you’ll find them all to be worth your time. In an increasingly complex world, I, for one, prefer simplicity in my life – I like knowing what to do and not to do. So, without further ado:

1) Pursue your passions.

After I graduated from BU, I had a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Education. I had an incredible college job as a ballpark vendor under my belt. But one thing I didn’t have was a clue about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. After four years, and a lot of money, that’s a really scary thing. For several months I floundered — as a life insurance salesman, a pizza delivery guy, and a tutor. Then I found a book which changed my life – What Color Is Your Parachute (incidentally, the best-selling career book of all time). The book essentially says: Figure out what you’re passionate about, and then go find an industry, organization and job through which you can pursue your passions. I was passionate about marketing, and media, and children, and I loved the Disney brand. So I found Radio Disney, called them up and asked to meet with them, and even though there was no job posted, I got a job there.

A year later I was the top salesperson in the country, and while I have changed jobs and careers several times, I’ve always pursued things I’m super passionate about. If you don’t have a job yet, and take away just one thing from me today: Get the book.

By the way, I met another really passionate person at Radio Disney — pictured above with me is the person who dropped me from being the No. 1 salesperson in the country to No. 2 within three months of being hired. Her name was Carrie, and a few year later, I happened to marry her and go into business with her. I’ve learned that when you pursue your passions, things tend to work out.

2) Learn how to use the phone to talk.

We’ve had dozens of employees at our Likeable offices over the last six years, many of them young, recent college graduates with degrees in marketing or communication, and yet one thing lacking in almost all of these smart people is phone skills. I guess we’re all so used to using our phones for texting, emailing and apps, we don’t really get much practice using our phones to actually talk anymore. In many organizations, simply being able to answer a phone call with a smile and carry on a quick but friendly conversation can actually be a competitive advantage, since so many people can’t do it. So go call a friend right now and talk. They’ll be time to text and tweet later.

3) Value every minute.

I’m sure you’ve heard many older people tell you that “time flies.” Well, it does, and while I’ve been searching for a solution to that problem for awhile, nobody’s solved it yet. So in the meantime, the only solution to the problem of limited time is to value and cherish each and every minute. It means avoiding time-sucks — like TV, meetings and email. It means scheduling your time carefully for everything you do. More important, it means prioritizing and scheduling time with the people that are important to you.
4) Be afraid, then take risks anyway.

There’s a great line from the Broadway show Avenue Q (great show, by the way, for recent college grads to see!): “Life may be scary, but it’s only temporary.” It’s true: Life is scary. Finding a job is scary, finding and keeping love is scary, even crossing the street is scary in some cities. But if we can feel fear and have the courage to take a risk anyway, the payout is always worth it. Fail and learn, or succeed and enjoy. I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes — including the globally televised reality TV show Paradise Hotel. (I’d recommend watching it for a laugh or two, but that would surely violate my last rule.) So start a business, ask out that girl you’ve had a crush on for years, stand up for what you believe is right. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

5) Take care of yourself.

At BU, I definitely put on the Freshman 15. Then I think I put on the Sophomore 10, the Junior 10 and the Senior 18. I’ve struggled with my weight for nearly all of my adult life, losing as much as 69 pounds after college. I’m a lifetime member of Weight Watchers — three times over. But I want to be around, for my wife and kids, as long as I can. There are no guarantees in life, but if you take care of your body, and put yourself first, as my wife and co-founder of Likeable Media Carrie says, you’ll not only increase your odds, you’ll be able to be a better leader and a peak performer in all aspects of your life.


6) Work on your listening skills.

I wasn’t always the best listener. I think part of the reason I didn’t have many successful dates or girlfriends in college is that I was one of those idiots that kept talking about myself instead of asking questions and shutting up. Today, I’m convinced that listening is the single most important skill — in my business of social media, in all businesses, in all relationships, and in life. Most people don’t go through life listening — they go through life waiting to talk. Take time to truly listen to people, whether it’s your friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter, your boss in a 1-on-1, your girlfriend, or your parents. Actively listen and focus on the person in front of you the way a child focuses on his favorite TV show. My motto, for years, since those unsuccessful college dating years, has been this: Listen first and never stop listening.

7) Reinvent yourself.

In the last fifteen years, I’ve been a ballpark vendor, radio salesperson, reality TV star, media entrepreneur, author, speaker and software CEO. For most people this decade and beyond, the days of one job, one career, one company are long over. If you work hard and pursue your passions, you’ll have lots of opportunities to reinvent yourself over your lifetime. And thanks to the internet, reinventing yourself is easier than ever before. So don’t worry about what you want to be when you grow up — I know I don’t. Just figure out what you want to do tomorrow.


8) Read.

Sorry, professors, but I’ve learned more from reading great books over the last fifteen years than what I learned over four years in college. I’ve been taught and inspired by Godin, Collins, Lencioni, and many other great authors. In fact, I can honestly say that these nine books have changed my life. For me, it’s nonfiction that I love. For you, it may be fiction, or poetry, or yes, vampire romances. But whatever your preference, know that when you’re reading, you’re learning, and learning is always a good thing. In college you had to read. Now, you get to read.


9) Write.

Writing is a lost art – and the truth is, no matter what your job, industry or career, it’s beneficial to become a better writer. In fact, one of my only regrets is not writing more over the past thirty years. I only began writing regularly five years ago, with the Likeable Media blog. I remember, when we launched it, it was called “Buzz Marketing Daily,” and my wife and business partner Carrie said we shouldn’t do it, as that would force us to post a new article everyday. “Exactly,” I replied. Five years later, it’s one of the most highly trafficked blogs in marketing, and has led to millions of dollars in revenue for our company. I’ve also written two bestselling books, and of course, I love writing now for LinkedIn. You don’t have to write books — but whether it’s a blog, writing code, or just writing emails, practice writing. It sharpens your thinking skills, and you’ll be taken more seriously at any job.

10) Avoid sensational TV news.

There’s not much to say about this, except it’s one of the biggest time-sucks around. I’ve certainly fallen victim to this myself. Something “huge” happens in the news — Newtown, Boston, Cleveland, etc. — and we want to learn more, and to understand, and to mourn, and the next thing we know, we’re glued to the TV for hours and hours. I’m all for informing ourselves about the news. But think about how much you could actually do, and make, and really learn, if you just shut the TV off.



11) Vote.

Vote for candidates and causes you care about. Vote at the ballot booth and with your wallet. Vote on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and LinkedIn. Vote with what you share — and don’t share — with what you buy, and don’t buy, and with whom and what you stand for, and don’t stand for. I’m embarrassed to say, like many young people, during and after college, I didn’t vote, despite old people like me and MTV telling me to. Today, thanks to social media, more than ever, the government and companies can be held accountable. Vote in all these ways to keep them accountable.



12) Love. Hard.

I mentioned earlier how scary life is. Love is the scariest part. I mentioned earlier that I married Carrie, a woman I met while working at Radio Disney in my first real job after college. What I didn’t mention earlier is that when I first met Carrie and fell madly in love with her, she was married at the time. I was rejected, and it hurt a lot. I proceeded to do what anyone with unrequited love would do: I went on a reality TV show to find true love. If you Googled that, you’d see that didn’t work out too well for me, either, in the love department. Let’s just say, I fell for a model who said on national TV, “All I said was, ‘I don’t like Dave touching my bare skin.‘” But despite the pain of rejection, the feeling of love is the best thing ever, and well worth the risk of rejection and breakup. And a couple of years later, I got my chance with Carrie, and I haven’t been happier since. The only thing as good as the love of a life partner is the love of your children. I’ve got two, Charlotte and Kate, and they inspire me every single day.

13) Form a personal board of advisors.

When we first started Likeable Media, in 2007, we really didn’t have a clue about what we were doing. I was an idiot trying to run a company. We muddled through somehow though, and things worked out okay. Today, I’m still an idiot, but I have much more of a clue than I used to, thanks to our Advisory Board. Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed by meeting lots of smart, talented people, who have become mentors to me. A little over a year ago, I reached out to eleven of these mentors and asked them to serve on a board of advisors for me, and they all did. You don’t need to own a company to have a board of advisors — you just need to be open to finding mentors and asking them for help along the way.

14) Show your friendship first.

The truth is, as awesome as my Advisory Board is, they might not all have volunteered to help me if I hadn’t offered to help them first. My wife’s dad, who I knew as PopPop, taught me to show my friendship first — to reach out to others and genuinely offer my help, without any expectation of getting anything back in return. It feels really good to give, and the idea of helping others often ends up working out really well, in business and in life. Three years ago, sadly, I lost PopPop to cancer. But the lesson he taught me lives on, and hope you too will be able to benefit from PopPop by giving of yourself before you receive.

15) Be honest and transparent.

At the end of the day, we all have to live with ourselves. Sometimes, it might be tempting to keep secrets, or tell little white lies, or leave things out, or even lie outright to accomplish a goal or get what you want. But as I’ve learned, dishonesty and secrecy only make life harder in the long run. Honesty, openness and transparency are actually a lot easier, because you don’t have to remember as much, and you get to feel good about yourself. In business, transparency breeds trust, and trust breeds customers. But really, in all of life, honesty is the best policy. You already knew this of course, but I hope my spin on it — that honesty is actually easier — will help you a bit along the way.


Don’t worry so much. Just be likeable.

Dan Zadra said, “Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” It’s true; worrying won’t get you anywhere. And, yes, you have a lot that you could be afraid of. But as I told you, and as the EGOT winner Robert Lopez wrote, “Life may be scary — but it’s only temporary.” And we’re all in it together.

There are a lot of things in life that you can’t control. What you can control is how you treat other people, how you treat yourself, and how you treat the planet. So my motto is simple: Above all else, just be likeable.



Here’s to the Class of 2014, and to all of us, just trying to do the simple things each day, to make a better life for ourselves and our children.

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