Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard know about achieving success under unexpected circumstances.
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Each served as a White House social secretary, and in their new book, “Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life,” Bernard, who served in the Obama administration, and Berman, who served in the George W. Bush administration, explain the key principles of success they picked up throughout their White House journeys.
“We decided to write a book on the advice we wish we had at the start of our career,” Bernard tells CNBC Make It.
Below, they share three pieces of wisdom that all recent graduates should follow in order to be successful:
Bernard and Berman each got their start in politics in an unexpected way. They agree that it was their willingness to try new things that led to their success.
“I think it is good to be open to the kind of opportunities you may not be looking at, says Berman, “because wherever you go you will learn something that will be useful down the road.”
After graduating from Miami University, Berman worked as a research assistant at Georgetown University. During this time, she was enrolled in graduate school at the university and planning to pursue a career in the Foreign Service. But after falling in love with the event planning and fundraising aspect of her job, she changed course and opened her own event planning business in Washington, D.C.
Over time, she made connections with many political figures, and in 2001 she was recommended to serve as the social secretary and house manager to Vice President Richard Cheney. After this role, she served as Lynne Cheney’s chief of staff, and in 2004 became social secretary to George W. Bush.
Bernard, similarly, had not planned on a career in politics. After graduating from Hunter College in New York, he moved to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming an actor. While working at an upscale restaurant in the 1990s, he met David Mixner, a friend of Bill Clinton and a member of Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. The connection eventually led him to working with Clinton and later with Obama as a White House social secretary from 2011 – 2015.
“I didn’t even know the position of social secretary existed before I came to the Obama administration,” says Bernard. “But I kept open to different opportunities as they came along.”
Berman says it was a boss she had at Georgetown who taught her one of the biggest lessons about paying attention to details.
One day after typing a letter for him, she says he came to her cubicle and told her, “You know, you are very good and you are very fast, but you are not accurate. It matters if there is a typo in my letters. You have to slow down and proofread and review everything at least twice.”
Berman says it was in that moment that she understood the value of developing keen attention to detail.
“It’s the little things that really matter,” echoes Bernard. “I learned that in one of my first jobs in politics from my boss David Mixner. After an event or something we had went to, one of the first things he would do when he got back to the office was write a thank-you note.”
Bernard says he tells young professionals all the time that “over the years, those thank you notes really make a difference.”
In his role in the White House, Bernard says he saw first-hand how interns could be denied an opportunity to work for the Obama administration because of the content found on their social media accounts.
“One piece of advice is ‘it is there forever, so be careful,'” he says. “Whatever you put out, think twice about it before you push ‘send’ or add a comment, because it can stay with you.”
He advises recent graduates to consider making their profile pages private if the content they post is often personal or not in alignment with their career.
“It’s worth it, because your social media snapshot may not serve your work identity,” he adds.
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