What am I supposed to do now?

My advice to the incoming Class of 2020 at Bentley University

On August 24, 2016, Bentley University welcomed the Class of 2020 to campus during the Convocation ceremony. I was honored to present the keynote address to the students and their families.

Convocation is such an emotional event. There are always tears when the parents say goodbye to their college-aged children. As their parents leave campus and they settle into their dorm rooms or wander their campus, there is a feeling that hits these newly minted college freshmen. The feeling presents itself in a variety of ways: sadness, anxiety, excitement, joy. That feeling is driven by a sense of freedom and independence that these young men and women may have never felt before.


Bentley University, Convocation 2016, Keynote Address by Jim Pouliopoulos

And, one question is running through their minds: What am I supposed to do now? I gave the students some advice on how to handle that question.

It’s no longer a question of what they are supposed to do. They need to adopt a mindset where they seek self-discovery by asking a different kind of question. I also implored them to spend the next four years learning as much about themselves as they do learning about business and society. You can watch my Convocation address here.

One of the insights I didn’t share during my Convocation address was how to deconstruct a phrase that has caused a lot of debate regarding “doing what you love.”  The statement that seems to get tossed out a lot is: “Do what you love and the money will follow.

While I don’t disagree with the fundamental sentiment behind that phrase but it’s almost like a longer statement that had to be shortened to 140 characters so it could be shared on Twitter.  The statement is missing a lot of “fine print.”

In my opinion, the real message is:

Do what you love doing

       With people you enjoy …

               In an environment that protects your dream …

                       Learning things you want to learn …

                            Making an impact that you care about.

                                         Build a lifestyle based on all of this …

And enough money will follow.

My Convocation keynote address is here. You can watch the entire Convocation ceremony here.

How have you found happiness and career satisfaction?

My ABCs of selling

Always be connecting

Effective sales people know how to develop genuine relationships and serve as trusted advisors to their clients. Theses sales skills are also required for success in most professional roles today.  The best salespeople are like a trusted physicians: They develop genuine interest in their prospects’ situations, they diagnose carefully, and they prescribe a treatment that is tailored to each individual patient.

doctor diagnosis

I joined Carol Massar and Cory Johnson from Bloomberg Radio and Gloria Larson, President of Bentley University, to discuss the value of sales skills in the workplace. The ability to develop genuine interest and rapport, diagnosis unknown issues, and solve problems can be applied in a variety of roles at work and in life. You can listen to the entire interview below.

Make the most of your internship

There's great value for both students and employers in internship programs

In the past, the word “internship” was often code for “cheap labor” and interns were often given low value, tedious, tasks to do – busy work, in other words. That has changed dramatically in recent years.


Companies have invested heavily in strategic internship programs that help them recruit quality candidates by giving interns strategic projects to work on. The interns have the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and skills and natural abilities for the employer.

Bentley University President Gloria Larson and I were on Bloomberg Radio discussing the strategic aspects of internships for both students and employers.  You can listen to our conversation below:


Here are some of my thoughts on internships for college students.

How has Bentley University integrated internships into their curriculum and programs? Most of our degree programs include internships for credit which allow students to work in a professional setting, doing work related to their major for credit. In the case of the Professional Sales major, we made a sales internship a mandatory/required course. In that way, an employer knows that the student has real-world experience before being hired. Also, the student has a chance to “try out” a profession/career before committing to it after graduation.

What should a student look for when seeking an internship? I believe students should ask about the structure of the internship. In other words, will the internship allow the student to experience a variety of roles throughout the term of the internship – will they rotate through different departments or roles. I also think students should ask what sort of training is provided at the beginning and during the internship. Also, what is the conversion rate from internships to full-time employment.

What sort of elements make internships interesting and valuable? One example: Liberty Mutual has an annual sales competition for its summer sale internships. They bring dozens of sales interns to Boston for a few days during which they compete in simulated sales environments. LMI is obviously committed to developing world class interns – and also hoping these interns join the firm on a full time basis after graduation.

Why are internships so important? Internships pull the covers back on a career path – there is no better way to understand if you will fit into a career path until you actually take it for a test drive. This is why one of the top indicators of career success and satisfaction is whether or not the person had a college internship in the selected industry/market/career.

What should a student do if they don’t get their “dream” internship? I think there is too much emphasis on the word “internship” – Every student should seek high quality summer or part-time employment that will give them experience in their chosen career path and allow them to contribute real-world results to a company or organization.  There are many companies with world class internship programs: Liberty Mutual, EMC, TJMaxx to name a few. However, there are a finite number of slots in each program. So, students need to get good at networking and find a role at a firm that is strategic to their career path – regardless of the internship title.

How can a student maximize their internship experience? Be very observant during the time you are working as an intern. In my recent TED Talk (TEDxBentleyU) I lay out four elements which add up to career satisfaction and students should be cognizant of these things while working as interns: (1) the People you work with, (2) the Environment you work in, (3) the types of (3) Knowledge you gain while on the job, and (4) how your Natural Skills  are appreciated – or not – in the internship role by the  firm.

Sacrifice and selfishness: My advice to Bentley University’s Class of 2015

I was honored to present the Faculty Address for the Class of 2015 at Bentley University’s Baccalaureate ceremony on May 15, 2015.

Here’s a transcript of my remarks:

I am completely humbled and honored to have been asked to share my thoughts today during your Baccalaureate ceremony. I’ve never spoken at Baccalaureate before. In fact, I’ve never even written the word Baccalaureate before. The first time I tried to spell Baccalaureate, I froze at my keyboard and I suddenly realized what it was like for my students to try and spell “Pouliopoulos” when they submitted assignments to me. Sorry about that!

I’d like to tell you a little story.


When I was eight years old, my parents took my younger brother and me to Horse Neck Beach on Cape Cod for a day of fun on the beach. Horse Neck Beach is known for a few things: huge crashing waves, horse flies – annoying insects which are like mosquitos on steroids, and occasionally, a pretty dangerous undertow.

My father and I had been swimming for a while when we noticed we’d been dragged out pretty far by the undertow. We were suddenly in water that was over my father’s head and the waves were very high. I was scared – not because I was in deep water but because my father was starting to panic.

Seth Godin’s got some great career advice

Seth Godin has a great blog entry that describes some of the frustration I often feel when discussing careers with high school and college students. Even in this day and age of free-flowing information and limitless possibility, too many young people try to stick to some linear path that was either dictated to them by parents or peer pressure. I think a lot of this focus on a “good job” and a linear career path comes from parental pressure.

I’ve tried real hard to not force my own children down any particular career path or college choice. As a result, I have two children in college and one on the way next year and none of them will be attending Bentley University where I currently teach. As a full-time lecturer at Bentley, my children could have attended tution-free. That’s quite a financial incentive and many other parents think I’m crazy for not insisting that my children attend one of the best universities in the U.S. tuition-free. In my view, I would have been a hypocrit if I ever forced my children to attend Bentley. During their entire childhood, I preached to them that they should follow their passions and find interesting experiences that would give them great stories to tell. After all, life is about the stories you tell and they have some great ones because of their desire to explore the world and find their “tribes.” They’ve all found their passions and their “tribes” and those don’t line up with Bentley’s offerings. I’m proud of all three of them even if it costs me a lot more to support their dreams!

Seth Godin makes the case that you need to experiment and try new experiences in order to figure out what your career/life should look like. I couldn’t agree more. Start with passion. Find your tribe. And then, find a place to learn and contribute.

If wishes were fishes we’d do some market research

The Harvard Business Review recently published an article about how the Georgia Aquarium boosted revenue, increased the number of visitors to the aquarium and increased visitor satisfaction dramatically through some good old fashioned market research all without raising prices and through a modest increase in advertising budget.  The Georgia Aquarium focused on their current customer base and created a profile of the most valuable customers. Once this “buyer persona” was created, they researched where more of these types of buyers lived and how they preferred to receive promotional messages.

After the initial market research, it was easy to find the most cost effective advertising channels to reach prospects who fit the profile of the Georgia Aquarium’s most valuable customer.

With all the challenges facing business leaders today, it’s easy to forget that your best clients provide the perfect blueprint for reaching and attracting high quality prospects.  The Georgia Aquarium did that and they were rewarded for their efforts.



Love the one you’re with

The vast majority business owners I speak with tells me that word of mouth is their most important source of new customers.  However, these same business owners go on to tell me that they spend most of their time and money chasing new prospects using a variety of promotional activities like SEO, social media campaigns, direct mail, radio spots and other advertising tactics that do very little to elicit actual word of mouth referrals from their current – and presumably – most loyal customers. Think about it. Why spend tome and money on generating new customers from strangers when the biggest pool of warm referrals is at your fingertips: your current customer base?

Year after year, The Nielsen Company tells us that consumers place greater trust in word of mouth referrals than any other type of advertising. In a recent study by Nielsen, 84% of respondents said that they either completely trust or somewhat trust word of mouth referrals from a friend or family. Not only do your prospects trust the referral from their friends or family, they actually take action based on the referral. In the United States, 79% of consumers surveyed they are likely to take action when given a referral.  When was the last time one of your prospects trusted your direct mail piece, website banner ad or Facebook company page at that high of a level? When was the last time that any form of advertising you used generated action in 4 out of 5 people it reached. My guess is “never.”

Another benefit of word of mouth referrals is the fact that “birds of a feather flock together.” Your current customers spend time with people who have the same interests, attitudes, opinions and backgrounds. If your customers are happy with your products or services, their friends will be as well. These referral prospects are pre-qualified!

I know that many businesses keep in touch with their current and past customers via newsletters and the occasional greeting card. Those are good tool but they are extremely passive. They rely on an active interest on the part of the recipient to go out of their way to make the connection between a friend and the business in question.

Why not make it easy for your customers to connect their friends and family to your business?

  • Pick up the phone and call your current and past customers. Check in with them and genuinely care how they’re doing.  And, don’t tell me “Oh, I’m too busy to call individual customers.” If you have one quick call with a customer each day of the week, you’ll reach 250 customers in a year. If only 10% can refer new business to you, you end up with 25 prospects and 20 likely new customers. That’s a pretty good ROI for a  short phone call each day.
  • Make it easier for your customers to refer new clients to with technology. My students at Bentley University are doing some really interesting work with Referron, a smartphone app that makes is easy for customers to instantly make referrals between prospects and your business.  The prospect gets a note with a solid referral from their friend. The business owner gets the prospects contact information allowing them to reach out proactively to this new, warm lead.  And, the business owner can track and reward who is sending them the most referrals. No more dropping the ball after a referral is made.

Your loyal customers are your best forms of advertising. Wouldn’t it be nice to stop chasing stranger and start welcoming more pre-qualified prospects into your pipeline?

Just Don’t Do It!

This will shock many proud, hard working business owners: Your business should not depend upon your presence, personality, problem solving and perspiration for its daily survival. If so, your business does not work, you work for the business!

Your ultimate goal as a business owner should be to become the least important person to the daily operation of your business. That’s right, you need to be the least important part of the daily operation of your business. That doesn’t mean you are not important to the business. Quite the contrary, your ability to create a vision, develop and implement a strategy and mange your team effectively is critical to the ultimate success of the business.  However, many business owners and manager find that all the major and minor daily decisions have to flow through them. They have allowed their business to evolve into a form that requires their non-stop attention to all details small and large.

If everything in your business flows through you and is dependent upon you, then you are restricting dramatically the growth and profits of your company. There are natural limits to the amount of work, transactions, problems and decisions that can flow effectively through you in a given day.

Stop being a bottleneck; you’re restricting the potential of your employees and business and ensure your persistent exhaustion. Stop missing out on greater personal freedom, money and happiness.  Say “no” to low-value tasks.

When you are faced with tasks that seem urgent but not important, ask yourself this simple question: Does this task generate revenue, save money, please my customers or create system to better run my business? If the answer is “no,” DROP it. Just don’t do it.

Business owners are great list makers. They carry around lists of things to do, things to think about, and list of projects that need to get completed someday, somehow. I propose that you create a list that will have greater impact on your bottom line than a laundry list of tasks to be completed. I suggest you create a DO NOT DO list.