Business magnate Michael Bloomberg, a man worth an estimated $48.9 billion, says that when he was 22, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his career.
In a commencement speech at Villanova University on Friday, the former mayor of New York City shared how he navigated the transition from school to the workforce.
“Now, if you are sitting out there thinking to yourself, ‘OMG, what am I going to do with my life?'” Bloomberg says, “don’t worry.”
“When I graduated from college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And after I graduated from business school, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
Bloomberg earned a degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1964. Two years later, he received an MBA from Harvard.
The first decision he made after business school, he says, was one of the most important of his career.
It’s career advice he thinks every college graduate should take to heart: Don’t take a job based on salary, he says, but on how much you think you can grow at a company.
After deferring military service during the Vietnam War, Bloomberg took a job in the vault of investment bank Salomon Brothers. The role paid significantly less than other similar opportunities at the time, Bloomberg says, and the work, counting stock and bond certificates, was grueling.
“It was a pretty lowly start for a Harvard MBA,” he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, “Bloomberg on Bloomberg.” “We slaved in our underwear, in an un-air-conditioned bank vault, with an occasional six-pack of beer to make it more bearable.”
But Salomon Brothers was known for its culture of meritocracy, and Bloomberg felt he could grow professionally there.
“I ended up taking a job that paid about 40 percent less than another firm was offering, because I thought it would be a better fit,” he says. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made, even though I got fired after 15 years.”
Taking a job based on the potential for growth and opportunities to learn new skills, Bloomberg says, is the smartest career strategy.
It certainly worked for him. He became a star at the company, rising through the ranks to become a bond trader and then a partner and head of equity trading and sales. He worked 12-hour days regularly and was on a clear path at the company.
After more than a decade, he met another period of uncertainty after losing his job in 1981 when the company restructured. The next day, he used his significant severance package to start the company that would become Bloomberg LP.
“Don’t worry about making some grand long-term plan,” Bloomberg says. “And don’t take a job based on salary.”
The skills he acquired and relationships he built at Salomon Brothers proved invaluable. College graduates should prioritize finding work that excites them, the billionaire says.
“Take the job you’ll most enjoy working at,” he says, “and then work like crazy.”
You can watch Michael Bloomber’s commencement speech at Villanova University below