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Treasury Secretary Lew’s Advice for College Graduates

Taken from an interview at Queen’s College on September 13, 2016. Link here

Question: Good afternoon Secretary Lew. Thank you for coming to speak with us. Name’s Nigel Barker, finance major here at Queen’s College, and a sort of consensus that I’ve been hearing is concerns of employment after we graduate. How can we keep the economy growing, to sort of shift the onus to us, what are some things you recommend us to do as we go out into the world and sort of face this uncertainty of employment? Any advice on that end of how we can continue to be marketable?


So let me start with the first and most important things: finish your degrees.

A partial degree is far, far, far less valuable than a completed degree, and if you look at the performance in initial jobs, and kind of beyond that, finishing a degree is the most significant thing you can do to give yourself a leg up.

I will also say just as a general matter of advice: take some risks.

You know, where you’re young is when you can take jobs if they are interesting, if it’s working with people who are interesting. Don’t set your mind on the one thing that you want to do. Because your interests are going to change as you experience things outside. I think the most important thing when you pick a job is actually asking, “who am I going to work with, and is what I’m going to be doing interesting?” If the answer to those two questions is ‘yes,’ I don’t think, especially when you are young, you can make a mistake.

And I say this to people when they come into my office and ask for advice: be willing to roll up your sleeves and do whatever has to be done.

I found that when I was starting out, and today, people who are willing to just do the work to get things done get given more work and more interesting work, and end up with broader horizons. People who say “no I don’t do x,” whether it’s copying, (people don’t copy anymore but in my day it was copying), but doing things that you don’t really want to be doing. Showing that you are focused on executing the task of wherever you are and getting it done right and sticking with it until it’s finished and successful- people who do that get reputations that earn them more responsibility and more opportunity.

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