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Convocation speech by 1969 journalism alumnus Tim McAuliff
Welcome to the 2011 Commencement for the College of Media. It’s a day to be proud of your accomplishments and remember all the hard work that went into it. I was deeply honored and more than surprised when Dean Slater asked me to give this speech. The reason being, that I was far from being a model Illini student. I got my last credit hour on the 18th green at Champaign Country Club and graduated in the October class…most people, including me, didn’t know that there was an October class of graduates.
So you’re sitting here wondering:
- What the heck can I learn from this guy?
- How long is he going to speak for because I’m really tired and hung over and if it’s too long, I know that I am going to doze off?
Well, my family is here and they are asking themselves those same questions. So since I am the only thing standing between you and your degrees, I’m going to follow the 3 B’s of public speaking:
- Be informative.
- Be brief.
- Be seated.
I’m not going to impart a surfeit of idealistic thoughts about the life ahead of you. My remarks will focus on advice about getting a job and then building a successful career from there.
Our company only hired college grads. Over the years, we hired thousands of people just like you. I watched them go through the interviewing process and then had a ring side seat observing their careers. From that, I came up with the McAuliff Axiom:
The hardest part is getting in; the easiest part is succeeding.
The getting in part is navigating the interviewing process and landing a job. The easiest part is building a successful career from there. Since that is counter intuitive let me repeat it.
The hardest part is getting in; the easiest part is succeeding.
Let me explain.
The interviewing process is a tough grind, that isn’t always fair, and almost always takes longer than you think it.
It’s a Darwinian Dance that is designed to cull from a large list of applicants, the most passionate, most persistent, most creative, and most persuasive candidates. Good companies hire those people, train them, and promote them. Those new hires provide the future DNA of all successful companies.
Great people act as a beacon attracting other good people.
It is this steady stream of good people (over the years) that allow great companies to grow, increase their market share and profitability, and to succeed in out-distancing their competitors and that is why companies make this process so challenging. If you recognize the degree of difficulty of your endeavor and treat it as your full time job, you will be ahead of the game. And boy is it a worthwhile challenge from your perspective, since for the last 4 years, you’ve been paying for an education. A job means you will be getting an education and being paid while you do it.
- Clean up your Facebook page. Employers like to check reference and nothing is more revealing than your Facebook page.
- Treat every interview as if it was a final exam. Utilize all the resources available to you BEFORE your interview. Never in the history of mankind has so much information been so easily available to so many. Read up on the company, research he people that you are going to talk to, and be conversant about its product and services, and formulate how YOU fit into that.
- Realize that your goal in any interview is to make a great first impression, as that is the only lifeline for you to have a chance for you to have the chance to make a good 2nd impression.
- The deeper you go in the interviewing process, the more that is expected of you.
- Follow up afterward, being persistent in a creative, clever way.
Once you are in, the steps to a successful career are:
- Remember that every day adds to your resume. Give every day your best shot.
- Be early. Work is not like going to class. Being early signals a commitment and excitement about your job. It also allows you more time to work; meet people; learn things and most importantly for others to get to know you.
- Be enthusiastic. Norman Vincent Peale said, "Enthusiasm spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment. A positive attitude tells people that you are excited about what you are learning, excited about your job, and your company."
- Be watchful for whiners. They’re not happy. They’re generally not well thought of, and they are definitely people that you do not want to be identified with. As Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network always warns his employees, “When you see a negative person, run like hell the other way.”
- Volunteer for everything. This is the way you broaden your skill set and make yourself a more valuable employee.
- Find a mentor. Identify someone who is approachable and knowledgeable and volunteer to help them in exchange for learning from them. After a month or so, you should be able to identify the right person to approach.
- Continue networking within your company, your industry, and your friends and family. The more people that you meet and impress, the broader your business sense will be. And you are building a future list of references.
- Take care of yourself physically. Modulate the partying and work out regularly. Being fit and on top of your game is a good way to impress everyone and will also reflect well on your maturity and commitment.
- Keep your family in your circle. No one knows you better and has your best interest at heart, more than your family. They may not know much about the job that you are doing, the industry that you are in, but they will be good listeners and fast studies and their experience in life and business will be helpful.
- Find an outlet to do good. Helping others is the best way to feel good about yourself. A small amount of your time will pay huge emotional dividends.
- Try to learn your next job while you are working your current one. At the start of my career, I was on a sales team representing the company’s list of NBC stations. I took the time to meet and interact with clients from the ABC/CBS/Independent units. I didn’t have to, but years later when I was promoted to run the ABC division and then was made president of the company, those contacts proved invaluable. Those people knew me, trusted me, and gave me the chance to succeed in those new roles.
- As your career progresses, and it will, never forget how you got there. Remember the people that gave you good advice or opened a door and do the same for those who ask you.
And now for some final thoughts, realize that life is a more random and less orderly journey than you might think. After college and before I entered the “work-a-day world,” I was a beach bum, a ski bum, a cab driver, a bartender and a disk jockey. Those jobs taught me that everything in life teaches you something if you are willing to learn from it.
Be proud of your school and your education and know you are prepared for the challenges ahead. How proud should you be? I worked most of my career in NYC, where there are not a lot of Illini. I suspect you could stand on a corner in midtown yelling I-L-L and get hauled off by the cops to Bellevue before you got an I-N-I response. So I never missed an opportunity to put a plug in for my alma mater. One example was when the Washington Post was a client of ours and one year they had a broadcast managers’ meeting in Vermont. I was asked to come up and give a presentation about the national TV business marketplace and then answer any questions they had about our company. After that we got to play a round of golf. The President of the broadcast group put me in a foursome with Don Graham who was the President and CEO of the corporation. I think he wanted the two of us, who had never met, to get a chance to know each other. On the sixth hole, Don turns to me and asks me where I went to school. Without any hesitation, I answered “ Don, I went to the Harvard of the Midwest….I went to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I then asked him where he went and he paused and said “ I guess I went to the University of Illinois of the East….I went to Harvard University. “
I was thankful that he had a sense of humor. Otherwise, I might have lost a big client that day
I’ve spent the last three weeks with my family in Chicago including my three young grandchildren, and it’s their influence that gave me the ending for my remarks. It’s a quote from Dr. Seuss…..
You have brains in your heads
And feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose
You’re on your own
And you know what you know
YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go
I wish you much success and happiness on that journey and a hearty