career advice for students
Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address at the 2019 Google I/O conference at Shoreline Amphitheatre on May 07, 2019. Source: Justin Sullivan/AFP

There is much to learn from those who came before us. From our parents to our lecturers, they hold a wealth of information for us to navigate academic and personal life.

In matters related to our careers, who better than some of the world’s most successful company heads? Below is a selection of advice CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have for students today:

1. Sundar Pichai

The Google CEO told students to loosen up and have some fun when he spoke at his alma mater, the elite Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur outside Kolkata, in 2017.

“Academics is important but it is not as important as it’s made out to be,” he said. As a metallurgical engineering student then, he stayed up late and even nodded off at some classes and got a C in course.

“I worked hard but we did have our share of fun as well,” he said.

He advised students to “be well rounded,” follow their interests and have unique experiences.

“It’s a long road,” he said, “setbacks actually don’t matter.”

2. Corie Barry

Corie Barry is one of only 27 female CEOs in the S&P 500. The 44-year-old is also the youngest female CEO in the Fortune 100. This trailblazer’s advice to female graduates and workers is to “make yourself uncomfortable, and to take sometimes, the jobs no one else wants.”

“Have those uncomfortable moments. Because my strong personal belief is it is those moments that cause you to grow the most yourself, but that also differentiate you the most in your career.”

3. Kathy Warden

Nearly three decades ago, Northrop Grumman President and CEO Kathy Warden was just a first-generation student at James Madison university majoring in computer information systems and economics. 

Today, she heads one of the biggest defence firm in the world, a rare sight in a male-dominated field. Students would do well to heed any advice from this inspirational figure: “Everybody follows their own journey,” she says. 

Warden recommends taking on new challenges, even taking a little bit of risk early in your career. “It’s a great time to experiment and learn new things,” she says. The payoff is that “for the rest of your life you’re willing to take on the things that other people might shy away from. You really build confidence that sustains you in making tough decisions.”

4. Tim Cook

The Apple CEO addressed the techlash directly during his commencement speech in Stanfor last year. But amidst the controversies surrounding Big Tech, Cook’s advice suggest he still believes in the potential of technology to change the world. 

He encouraged graduates to be builders of lasting innovation.

You don’t have to start from scratch to build something monumental. And, conversely, the best founders–the ones whose creations last and whose reputations grow rather than shrink with passing time–they spend most of their time building, piece by piece,” he said.

“Builders are comfortable in the belief that their life’s work will one day be bigger than them, bigger than any person. They’re mindful that its effects will span generations. That’s not an accident. In a way it’s the whole point.”

5. Bill Gates

The second-richest person on Earth and former CEO of Microsoft Bill Gates emphasised the importance of the people around us. In a Twitter thread, Gates advised students to be intentional about who they spend time with in the pursuit of growing and getting better.

“You’ll move in the direction of the people you associate with,” so choose wisely. Melinda Gates, his wife, is that person for him.

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