Edited Transcript of Sheryl Sandberg Addresses The Class of 2012 at HBS

Here is the full transcript (Edited version) of the Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s address to the graduating Class of 2012 at Harvard Business School.

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Introducer: Please join me in welcoming Sheryl Sandberg.

Sheryl Sandberg – COO, Facebook

Thank you. Thank you, Catherine. It’s an honor to be here today to address HBS’s distinguished faculty, proud parents, patient guests, and most importantly the class of 2012.

It’s an honor to be here today to address HBS’s distinguished faculty, proud parents, patient guests, and most importantly, the class of 2012.

Today was supposed to be a day of unbridled celebration and I know that’s no longer true. I join all of you in grieving for your classmate Nate. There are no words that make something like this better. Although laden with sadness, today still marks a distinct and impressive achievement for this class. So please everyone join me in giving our warmest congratulations to the Class of 2012.

When the wonderful Dean Nohria invited me to speak here today, I thought, come talk to a group of people way younger and cooler than I am? I can do that, I do that every day at Facebook. And I like being surrounded by young people except when they say to me, “What was it like being in college without the internet”, or worse, “Sheryl, can you come here, we need to see what old people are going to think of this feature”.

It’s a special privilege for me to be here this month. When I was a student here 17 years ago, I studied social marketing with Professor Kash Rangan, and one of the many examples Kash used to explain the concept of social marketing was the lack of organ donors in this country, which kills 18 people every single day. Earlier this month, Facebook launched a tool to support organ donations, something that stems directly from Kash’s work. Kash, wherever you are here, we are all grateful for your dedication.

So, it wasn’t really that long ago when I was sitting where you are, but the world has changed an awful lot. My section, section B, tried to have HBS’s first online class. We had to use an AOL chat room and dial-up service. Your parents can explain to you later what dial-up service is. We had to pass out a list of our screen names, because it was unthinkable to put your real name on the internet. And it never worked. It kept crashing and kicking all of us up, because the world just wasn’t set up for 90 people to communicate at once on line.

But for a few brief moments, though, we glimpsed the future — a future where technology would power who we are and connect us to our real colleagues, our real family, our real friends. It used to be that in order to reach more people than you could talk to in a day, you had to be rich and famous and powerful, be a celebrity, a politician, and a CEO, but that’s not true today.

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Now ordinary people have voice, not just those of us lucky enough to go to HBS, but anyone with access to Facebook, to Twitter, to a mobile phone. This is disrupting traditional power structures and leveling traditional hierarchy. Voice and power are shifting from institutions to individuals, from the historically powerful to the historically powerless, and all of this is happening so much faster than I could have ever imagined when I was sitting where you are today and Mark Zuckerberg was 11 years old.

As the world becomes more connected and less hierarchical, traditional career paths are shifting as well. In 2001, after working in the government, I moved out to Silicon Valley to try to find a job. My timing wasn’t really that good. The bubble had crashed, small companies were closing, big companies were laying people off. One woman CEO looked at me and said, “We would never even think about hiring someone like you”.

After awhile I had a few offers and I had to make a decision, so what did I do? I am MBA trained, I made a spreadsheet. And I listed my jobs in the columns and the things of my criteria in the rows, and compared the companies and the missions and the roles. One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first business unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money. I was not sure that there was actually a job there at all. Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage. And the job was several levels lower than jobs I was being offered at other companies.

So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him my spread sheet and I said, “This job meets none of my criteria”.

He put his hand on my sheet and he looked at me and said, “Don’t be an idiot”. Excellent career advice. And then he said, “Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and you are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on”.

About 6 and half years later, when I was leaving Google, I took that advice to heart. I was offered CEO jobs at a bunch of companies, but I went to Facebook as COO. At the time people said, why are you going to work for a 23 year old? The traditional metaphor for careers is a ladder, but I no longer think that metaphor holds. It doesn’t make sense in a less hierarchical world.

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When I was first at Facebook, a woman named Lori Goler, a 1997 graduate of HBS, was working in marketing at eBay and I knew her kind of socially. And she called me and she said, “I want to think about – talk to you about coming to work with you at Facebook. So I thought about calling you, and telling you all the things I’m good at and all the things I like to do. But I figured that everyone is doing that. So instead I want to know what’s your biggest problem and how can I solve it”.

My jaw hit the floor. I’d hired thousands of people up to that point in my career, but no one had ever said anything like that. And I had never said anything like that. Job searches are always about the job searcher, but not in Lori’s case. I said, “You’re hired. My biggest problem is recruiting and you can solve it”.

So Lori changed fields into something she never thought she’d do, went down a level to start in a new field and has since been promoted and runs all of the people operations at Facebook and she is doing an extraordinary job, having amazing impact. Lori has a great metaphor for careers. She says, “They’re not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym”.

As you start your post-HBS career, look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job, don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb. If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career.

You are entering a different business world than I entered. Mine was just starting to get connected. Yours is hyperconnected. Mine was competitive. Yours is way more competitive. Mine moved quickly, yours moves even more quickly. As traditional structures are breaking down, leadership has to evolve as well — from hierarchy to shared responsibility, from command and control to listening and guiding.

You’ve been trained by this great institution, not just to be part of these trends but to lead. As you lead in this new world, you will not be able to rely on who you are or the degree you hold. You’ll have to rely on what you know. Your strength will not come from your place on some org chart, your strength will come from building trust and earning respect. You’re going to need talent, skill, and imagination and vision, but more than anything else, you’re going to need the ability to communicate authentically, to speak so that you inspire the people around you and to listen so that you continue to learn each and every day on the job.