Advice for MBA hatchlings
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Thank you, Dean Gorbachev, trustees, esteemed faculty, students, and parents.

Today, young people, you begin your new lives as graduates of this institution--which is a good thing, because who wants to live in an institution? But seriously, folks, I love business schools because they prepare inquiring young minds to be just the opposite. Yes, today you enter the world of business! And it is as ready for you as you are ready for it. That is, not.

I'm going to give you the 411 today without any spin. What you already know, if you're as smart as I think you are, is that you've been trained to slip easily into the lush garden of corporate life, find your place, and not wake up for a couple of decades, like cicadas. That's their plan for you. But it doesn't go far enough. Because if I read you right, you're in this for you and yours, and you'll do what's necessary for No. 1. That's good. Never lose that.

You're also thoughtful, tender, idealistic, and searching for something that will help you make a difference to somebody other than yourself and your broker. That's good, too, but keep it to yourself. Employers will admire you for your sensitivity and excellent values, but they will not hire or promote you for them, unless you work for a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the sanctity of all life forms except humans. And even then, in those places the politics can be brutal.

Several questions are moldering right now in your minds, if I read you correctly. The first is how to get a job. Not just any job, but one that meets certain criteria. First, you have to be doing something not completely odious, although that's flexible. Second, it must pay you enough to live and to secure a member of either the opposite or the same sex with whom to share your evening plate of ravioli. And third? Well, at the beginning, there is no third. You just want to get a toe into the bear trap. And that's as it should be.

But here's a good piece of advice: Don't settle, not at the beginning. The world is full of beautiful ponds to swim in. Do not, out of insecurity or a desire to be jobbed up too soon, find yourself in a bog just because it's the first wet place you run into. There are lots of crappy first jobs. Find the one that's right for you.

And once you obtain that tiny morsel of initial turf? What then? Think about all the courses you took that sought to delude you into viewing business as a rational occupation. Where have they left you? High and dry, right? Don't worry about it. Nobody except for the very fortunate few has any real idea what's going on. That's a secret I'm sharing with you, squeaky young graduate. Everyone is worried, confused, disappointed with the way things are going--with occasional flashes of joy and grandiosity. That's why the more senior the officer, the more angry he or she is most of the time, except when elated.

And you? Once employed, you simply have to live your business life according to a few principles:

Don't say everything that's on your tiny mind. In the beginning, reserve your thoughts for those who seek them.

If you have a terrific idea for some dynamic action that will show people how bold you are--don't do it. Wait awhile. Nothing dramatic comes without danger.

Be nice to people. But don't be sucking on their ears every chance you get. Nobody likes an obviously insincere person, so keep it subtle.

If you do manage to find a friend who has stood the test of time--three months or so should do it at this stage--hold him close. True friends are hard to come by and even harder to keep. At the same time, it's not necessary to be one of those glad-handing yahoos who wants to get jiggy with every rummy in the reporting structure.

In spite of all the hours you have trained yourself playing Grand Theft Auto, belligerence is overrated as a strategy, and making enemies is bad business. Even the most insignificant foe may grow up to be Barry Diller.

Do not, however, be a gutless worm. If someone wants to tussle after you've exhausted all your mock friendliness, make sure he ends up spitting out a few teeth.

When the wine and beer are flowing and everybody is trashing someone, hold your tongue. What happens in Vegas often does not stay there.

Dress just well enough to look the part or, if you choose, one level up. Organizations have uniforms. Wear yours proudly, bending it only in ways that enhance your image as a stylish, independent conformist.

This above all: To thine own self be true. And it shall follow, as the night the day, that you cannot then be false to anyone. At least I've always hoped so.

Now, farewell and bless you, lucky ducklings. May the job you take one day be mine!

Stanley Bing is an executive at a FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He is the author of two recent books: The Big Bing, a collection of essays, and You Look Nice Today, a novel. He can be reached at