Al Casey was CEO of American Airlines and even Postmaster General– yes, he had a million employees driving around those little while trucks.

And he was kind enough to share his best advice with me, a poor college kid looking for a job.

I wish I heeded his words more carefully, as it would have saved me a ton of heartache, but that’s a story for another time.

Focus on your learning curve, not your earning curve.

Another $10,000 a year at Company A shouldn’t be the reason you choose it over Company B.

When you’re getting your first real job, what you’re really getting is experience and a network.

In a few years, you’ll be making a lot more if you’re doing something you love— enough to be knowledgeable about.

That’s why I chose American Airlines at only $36,500 a year, over Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, which were the places to be back then.

Besides, wouldn’t you rather work in an area that you enjoy versus suffering just to make a paycheck you despise?

Your #1 asset is your availability– direct it up, down, and sideways.

When you’re young, you might not know anything, but you can be super helpful.
Other busy managers will recognize your “can do” attitude and give you more responsibility.

I found that American, I could surf the web to find the answer to just about anything.

That was back before Google, believe it or not, and before I had joined Yahoo!.


But by being eager to help and self-managing, others didn’t have to babysit or micromanage me. You don’t want to fall into the stereotype that older folks have of millennials– entitled, needing constant praise, etc..

So just be available to help, quick to reply to emails, and quick to make things happen– knowing you’ll figure it out along the way.

Be an inquisitive observer of the passing scene.

When I first had meetings with the senior officers at American Airlines, I was intimidated. They all sounded so knowledgeable, knew what to do. Heck, some of these folks I had even seen on TV. And I felt like an awkward nobody– didn’t want my mouth to reveal my ignorance.

But when I did, I found that most folks really wanted to help me. In spite of “busy” they appeared, the top guys in the company clearly cared.

And over time, I realized that they were normal people, too– not know-it-all gods. So speak up and ask questions.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

It’s only when you hide in fear that you get in trouble. Because silently allowing your projects to fail causes your boss to have to be a boss. And most bosses don’t want to have to be bosses, as you eventually discover. They’d prefer we all get our work done and be friends. Managing is harder than it looks.

What does this mean for you, my friend?

If you’re in school and contemplating the scary future of having to get a job, pay your own bills, and be an “adult”, don’t worry.

Learn how to get organized and communicate effectively.

Make your boss look good and he’ll open doors for you.

Find successful people that will challenge you. If you’re not a little intimidated, then you’re not running with people who will help you improve your game.

You’ve probably heard old people say that you should follow your passion, since then you never have to work a day in your life. Sounds good and vaguely fluffy.  But to make it real, you have to build your personal brand and learn business skills now. Try to do it senior year, or worse, by the time you start a job, and you’re in for a rude awakening.

While getting A’s in school might be easy, it’s time to start looking at the world beyond the classroom. Hope this helps you avoid some pain, my friend.