Make It New Grads

8 highly successful execs share their best career advice for 20-somethings

Graduates pose for a photo as they line up for the Baruch College Commencement Exercise at the Barclay's Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

In honor of graduation season, CNBC Make It spoke exclusively to some of the nation's top business leaders and personal finance gurus, career coaches, bestselling authors, CEOs, self-made millionaires and billionaires and Wharton's No. 1 professor. For the next few weeks, we'll be rolling out the speeches or bits of advice that they are most excited to share with the Class of 2017, using the hashtag #MakeItNewGrads.

The Class of 2017 continues to don their caps and gowns as they graduate from school this month. In the coming weeks, many will launch their careers as they enter the workforce for the first time.

To help them start strong, CNBC asked successful executives from a range of industries, including finance, retail and consulting, for their advice.

These eight executives — CEOs, global leads of major companies and entrepreneurs who've launched businesses worth millions — have years of leadership experience and business knowledge.

Here's the advice they have to offer new graduates.

Get in the arena

Jean Case, CEO of The Case Foundation

"When I speak on college campuses or talk to graduates, among the most frequent questions I receive from those poised to venture out into the world is, 'What do you wish you had known when you were just starting out?'

"I usually recommend a number of key lessons that my friends, colleagues and I have gleaned over the years. The core recommendation is that making the most of life in the workplace is much like many other aspects of life and you need to channel the great words of President Teddy Roosevelt and 'get in the arena.'

"While fear or trepidation is not uncommon at this stage of life, I encourage you to #BeFearless and move into the working world by jumping in with all your energy, passion and a commitment to succeed. Yes, it will mean leaving the comfort zone of school, friends and perhaps family, too, but it's a necessary part of getting ahead and writing the next chapter of your life. Teddy Roosevelt said it right. Now is the time to get in the arena!"

Remember, 'it is a small world and a long life'

Mark Ein, investor, entrepreneur and chairman/co-owner, World TeamTennis

"As this year's college graduates enter the real world, I would encourage them to always remember that 'it is a small world and a long life.' This mantra has been a guiding principle for me since I started my career and is a helpful reminder to treat people well, build relationships, develop your reputation and take a longer-term view about your decisions and actions.

"The deeper you go into your career, the more you appreciate that it isn't just your recent history that matters but the full body of your life's work that will determine your opportunity set and your ability to most effectively pursue those opportunities. Build a broad network of strong, trusted relationships and be known as someone who people eagerly want to collaborate with.

"Along the way, avoid the short-term wins that may hinder your long-term goals and trust your internal compass to keep you on your path to your true north."

Understand who you are and what you want

Curt Richardson, founder of OtterBox

Curt Richardson, Founder of OtterBox
Curt Richardson, Founder of OtterBox

"Understand who you are and what you want. That's not about money or things, it's about what's in your heart. I always knew I'd be an entrepreneur, but I didn't find success until I got to the core of what I really wanted to build, which was a company that does well so it can do good.

"To me, that meant building a foundationally strong business that would not only support employees with great jobs and benefits, but also be able to give back to the community. And one that also gave me a creative outlet to make something tangible.

"What really matters to you? If you can find a way to make that your career, you'll find opportunity around every corner and success at the end of the day."

Find a values-driven company that inspires you

Diane Dietz, president and CEO of Rodan + Fields

"While it can be tempting to take the first job you're offered out of college, it's important to find the right fit. My advice is two-fold: Follow your passion and find a company that aligns with your core values.

"It's much easier to be successful when you are inspired and love your career. It's equally important to find a high-integrity company where you can be your whole self. If you're passionate and the company's culture matches your values, you'll be successful."

Use the element of surprise

Cindy Whitehead, founder and CEO of The Pink Ceiling

"As you enter the next phase, know this: You will be underestimated. And when you are, you will have a choice. You can allow that underestimation to confine you with self-doubt and frustration or you can harness it. Underestimation is an invitation for you to use the element of surprise to show up and kill with competence. My advice? Choose the latter."

Embrace the unpleasant

Constantine Alexandrakis, leads U.S. Region for global executive search and leadership advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates

Constantine Alexandrakis
Constantine Alexandrakis

"In your first job, be prepared to embrace and learn from things that may seem sub-optimal on the surface, and even from some of your mistakes. Like most new grads, when I started my first job, I had a rosy and optimistic view of it and what I would bring to it. But, at times reality didn't match my rosy view, and it felt like a setback instead of an opportunity.

In the moment, it's hard to appreciate that those momentary setbacks and mistakes that you make are actually learning opportunities that will not only make you better at your job, but a better leader down the road. As painful as it may be, embrace the unpleasant to become stronger and leap ahead."

Don't forget who helped you along the way

Tim Tynan, CEO of Bank of America Merchant Services

"I frequently have the opportunity to speak to recent college grads as a part of our onboarding process. The following are the four pieces of advice, or "Tynan Tips," that I try to impart upon the attendees: 1. Practice humility. It's an attractive trait among hiring managers and peers alike, and it will help you stand out in a crowd far more than braggadocio. 2. Don't forget where you came from and don't forget who helped you along the way. 3. Use the Socratic Method of asking questions to make points and influence others. 4. Project confidence!"

Decompress from the college experience

Dave Elkington, CEO of InsideSales.com

"The main thing is: Use these days to make yourself more diverse than you are.

"Just leaving college you no doubt think you must get a running start to launch your career properly. That's the short view. Right now, you need to be taking the long view. There are small investments in yourself you can make in the coming months that will yield dividends down the road.

"First, after graduation, spend six months or so doing something completely outside what you think you're good at (ideally as a full-time volunteer). Use the time to round yourself out and decompress from the college experience. The farther outside your traditional reference frame, the better.

"When the time comes to get that first job, make it one in which you can learn a professional 'playbook.' Identify a position working near quality people eager to play a mentor role in your life and recognize that this kind relationship has enormous value. Indeed, be willing to forego higher paying options in exchange for a mentor."

Look for more pieces of advice from leaders like Melinda Gates, Dave Ramsey and others over the next few weeks, and follow along with the series, as well as other content relating to the Class of 2017, on social media using the hashtag #MakeItNewGrads.

This post has been updated to include more contributions.