Entering the working world after graduating is intimidating and likely out of your comfort zone. As a young professional your resume is likely light, primarily filled with extracurricular activities, internships and summer jobs. You’ve adjusted to being a senior in college, part of the group that knows everyone and everything within your college bubble. In your new workplace, you’ll transition to the most junior person in the room and learning to adjust to the new culture. It’s tough, but with the right moves you can get quickly back on track to being recognized as knowledgeable and a leader within the team. No matter what industry you’re in, here are 10 pieces of career advice for young professionals to help you advance your career.
1. Get Promoted Quicker By Hustling At Your Job
Your lifetime earnings are decided in the first decade of your career. When you are a young professional you must make the first 10 years of your career count. Create a plan to double, triple or even quadruple your salary. Does that seem out of reach right now? Maybe, but you need to think big and set high goals. You’ll get farther setting high goals for yourself than if you set really achievable goals.
2. Make a 5 Year Plan
Technology changes quickly. Whether or not you work in the technology industry the changes to technology will impact your career. There are news articles about potential jobs that will be displaced by automation by 2030. It’s hard to know what the hottest jobs and best career paths will be 10-20 years down the line. Start mapping your career by making a 5 year plan. What skill sets do you want to acquire? What do you want to learn more about?
3. Advance Your Career Through Investing In Yourself
Don’t put yourself on the path where your job will be automated in the next 10 years. Always continue learning and acquiring additional skills. You’ve invested in yourself by attending college, but it doesn’t end there. There are other professional certifications and additional degrees that can significantly increase your earning potential. Investing in yourself in your 20s is easiest when you have fewer responsibilities. This can mean getting your MBA or another Masters degree, getting your CPA, CFA or PMP. It can also mean strengthening your soft skills such as communication skills and leadership skills.
Investing in yourself doesn’t have to cost money. If you work for a large corporation your team likely has money for training and internal training available. Some companies also offer LinkedIn Learning for free or you can subscribe for free for a month. Don’t hesitate to ask your manager about what training options you have available through your company, or what opportunities there are for external training / certifications. If the external training / certifications will help you in your current job your employer may be willing to partially or fully pay for it.
4. Expand Your Network At Your Company and In Your Industry To Unlock Career Opportunities
It’s important to surround yourself with people you admire. Find someone that has the job you want and learn from them. Surround yourself with people that you learn from, have positive attitudes and you enjoy being around.
Find advocates within your company. Many decisions will be made about your career when you aren’t in the room. Have people who are in that room that will advocate on your behalf. Don’t know who will be in the room? A likely place to start is the head of the division, their right hand, and their human resources business partner.
It’s equally as important to have a network outside your company. You are more likely to get a job through an employee referral and will have even greater odds if the person referring you is one of your sponsors. To build the network external to your company go through your Linked In contacts and see who you’re already connected with from school, neighbors, former coworkers, etc that work in the same industry as you. Then, reach out and ask to grab a coffee to catch up or ask to catch up on the phone. It’s best to periodically connect with your network and not wait until you need a favor.
It’s not just about what you know but who you know. How do you get put on the best projects? When you’re not happy with your job and want a change, can you pick up the phone and call someone who can help line up a job for you? You need to have both mentors and sponsors to give you advice and advocate on behalf of you.
Once you’ve assessed your current network, strategically network. This means now that you know what gaps you have in your current network, expand your network so that those gaps are filled. Starting with friends of friends or “2nd” connections on LinkedIn are the easiest places to start.
5. Advance Your Career Through Mentors and Sponsors
It’s important to have both mentors and sponsors in order to advance in your career. Mentors will help give you career advice when you don’t know how to navigate a situation and help guide you on topics you discuss. Think of a mentor like a coach. Many companies offer formal mentor programs that you can sign up to be a part of. Career advice is especially important for young professionals because the visibility you have so far is limited. Those with more experience or have greater visibility to the bigger picture can help you dream bigger.
Sponsors will advocate for you to be put on good projects, considered for new roles and for promotions. They will help push you in the right direction, put you in meetings to help you get executive visibility or expand your network. If they ever come to you about a job in their group, or with a referral to another job you know that person is one of your sponsors. The best piece of career advice for young professionals is to get a career sponsor early on.
6. Maintain Your Network
Young professionals spend time building their network. A key piece of career advice for young professionals is to maintain that network. Add connections on LinkedIn. Schedule coffees, lunches and drinks after work with current colleagues. Reach out to classmates that are in your industry often. It’s very easy to lose connections with classmates if you don’t live in the same area and as you get farther out from college. Check in with former colleagues from time to time as well. It takes a lot of effort to establish that sponsorship relationship. These are the connections you should work hardest at maintaining.
If you see an article that someone in your network may find interesting, send it to them. Or, if you have heard that they have a major life event change (such as a promotion, having a child, kid going to college, kid graduating college, etc) reach out and congratulate them. Know their birthday, put it in your calendar and text them happy birthday. Time flies by. Even if it’s been a few years since you’ve connected it won’t feel as out of the blue as you think. Keeping in periodic touch with your network helps maintain your network and keep additional career opportunities open.
7. Say Yes to Attending Workplace Events
It’s important to build relationships at work. When you are invited to team building activities or holiday parties, attend them. If you do travel frequently for work go out for the breakfasts and dinners with the team.
When leaders or peers are traveling into town try to grab a coffee with them or a drink. As you advance in an organization, it’s more likely you travel and have the opportunity to build relationships with the coworkers you travel with. When you’re starting out, unless you are a consultant, it’s unlikely you have this opportunity. You need to create these opportunities for yourself.
Even if you are an introvert, try your best to attend a few work events. Attending for 30 minutes to say a quick hi and mingle is better than not attending at all.
8. Attend Conferences
Conferences provide an excellent opportunity to network and improve your skills. Women’s leadership development conferences will help you network with other women, how to get through barriers in the workplace that affect women and improve soft skills like leadership skills.
Other conferences, like industry conferences, will help you stay on top of the latest industry trends and network with other people in your industry. These conferences provide an excellent way to expand your network into other companies in the industry that you may want to work at one day. These conferences will also help your business acumen in your current job.
Don’t wait to be extended an offer to attend a women’s conference or an industry conference. Research what conferences interest you, find out if your company already sponsors other coworkers to attend and ask your manager if you’d be able to attend. The closer to the conference the less of a chance they will say yes as tickets sometimes sell out the same day they go on sale. But, this will put it on your managers radar that you’re interested in attending and open up the possibility of you attending a conference sooner than later.
9. Dress For the Job You Want
If you want to be a VP, you do not need to dress like a VP from day 1. You do, however, need to dress professionally. Professionally doesn’t mean suit and tie, it depends on how people dress in your office. When you first enter the workforce or if you naturally look “young” it is easy to be mistaken for an intern. Don’t wear something where someone will walk by and think you look sloppy. Spending money on clothes can sometimes be frowned upon, but in the context of work it should really be looked at as an investment (within reason). If you don’t know what to wear, Corporette is a blog focused on professional wardrobes and there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest as well.
You can buy nice work outfits from TJ Maxx or buy second hand and look professional. If work gives you a laptop bag with your laptop use that for a bit while you’re getting on your feet. From there, take advantage of Black Friday shopping at the outlets for a nice black tote bag. You do not need to start day 1 (or even year 2) with a Tory Burch or Goyard tote bag.
10. Figure Out What Work You Don’t Enjoy
The first decade of your career is as much about figuring out what you don’t like as figuring out what you do like. Do you want to be a manager or individual contributor? What projects do you like and what projects do you hate? Where would you never want to live? You don’t have to have this all figured out, but you do need to begin to get a better understanding of what brings you joy, and what doesn’t. The best way to do this is to continuously try new things and step out of your comfort zone.
Hopefully you can find passion in your work and your job isn’t just a paycheck. But, if you currently aren’t passionate about what you do really try to dig deeper on what you don’t like and what are areas you do enjoy. This will help you identify your next career move that you’ll find more happiness in.
Understanding what you don’t enjoy will help narrow the list to help you find your true calling.
See Also: Smart Money Moves in Your 20s
What career advice do you recommend for young professionals? What do you wish you knew when you were just starting your career?