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The Career Advice You Need In Your 20s and 30s

career advice for young professionals
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The following pieces of career advice for young professionals will serve to inspire or revolutionize your strategies for success, as they have done for mine.

As I am nearing the end of my college career, my next phase in life is a constant discussion in many of my conversations. Thinking about student loans, health insurance, happiness, bills, housing, the economy, and more can make me feel like I have a house sitting on my chest. All of these decisions feel very “adult” to me even though I’ve entered adulthood as soon as I stepped into college.

It is a scary phrase to be in.

Many times, I wish that people would tell me the truth about working, career building, and navigating the next forty years of my life.

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I’ve come up with a few pieces of career advice for young professionals that I’ve been thinking about for ages.

Table of Contents +

Career Advice for Young Professionals

Whether you are looking for a job or already found your dream gig, here is some career advice for young professionals to keep in mind:

Job Hunt

You won’t know what you want to do right out of college

As I am on my last year of college, this is a piece of advice that I am not hearing enough of. There is an emphasis on knowing exactly what you want the minute after you graduate. College has helped me focus myself on a variety of careers and internships have helped to lead me away from paths I thought I was interested in.

It is perfectly acceptable to try out many careers at the beginning to see if you would be the right fit. Many people do not stick with what they did right out of college. If this advice was given out more frequently, this could alleviate the stress that many college seniors suffer under. It is alright to make mistakes. You can be vulnerable. You can change your mind.

Your interview starts prior to your interview

Your interview starts from the interviewer’s previous experiences with you, whether that is years working in the same facility or riding up in the elevator together. When applying in the same facility your reputation will precede you, make that work in your favor.

Improve on your industry jargon knowledge

Improving your vocabulary will portray you as a very articulate individual and will help in strategic conversations during the interview process. It will also reflect your knowledge and encourage more self-growth.

During the Interview

Have confidence

Confidence is an outward reflection of how you see yourself. Have good posture, walk with a purpose, dress professionally (and stylish!), believe what you say; confidence in yourself will reflect to others.

Be prepared by being on time

Which is five minutes early. Being on time for the interview it will show your commitment to wanting the job, meeting or other obligations.

It will also allow time for preparation prior to the start time of the interview. When you are required to bring materials, bring the material well organized and functional (nothing is more distracting than watching someone fiddle around with the electronics or flipping through papers during an interview).

Starting a New Job

Be observant when starting a new job

Just got your dream 2D animation job? Congrats, but for the first little while when starting a new career or starting to learn something, keep your mouth closed and ears and eyes open. Nothing foretells more to an employer about a new hire than when you are paying attention and ready to learn more. Ask questions when there is time and doing a bit of extra research will go a long way. Even if you are no good at your new-found job, “fake it till you make it” will get you into and out of many a situation.

You won’t like everyone in your office

Not everyone is going to want to be your friend. Become a professional at being a professional in work settings. Not everyone is going to like you and that is ok.

Take initiative when you’re new

Ask for additional responsibilities (if you can handle them), create solutions when you see issues, prove that you can excel.

You will not always be prompted with an opportunity so ask for it; there is nothing wrong with asking for what you want.

Be pleasant and professional

It will also encourage interaction with coworkers and customers and assist in resolving conflicts.

You will stand out to other workers and higher personal if you are able to appropriately assess and manage situations with poise. 

When You Have the Job

You will never always be happy at your job all the time

Even with Disney selling the dream of happily ever after, it is still highly unlikely that you will be happy at your job every day for the rest of your life. If it is truly something that you love, then you might be pushed into hard situations to test it. I am going to aim for something that will bring my joy and fulfills my purpose, but I know that I won’t quit on it the first time something goes wrong.

Quit and go find something that doesn’t make you dread getting up in the morning

However, if the only time that you feel happy is when you’re not at work then that might need some exploration. In this society, it is easy to hear that you have to do something you don’t love in order to make a certain amount of money.

ALWAYS be professional

As obvious as it sounds it holds more importance than you think. Leave home at home, keep your personal life and professional life separate.

Do not initiate or participate in issues, rumors, or gossip. By not doing so you are telling your supervisors that you can be trusted with sensitive information, which is a requirement when applying for higher positions. If serious issues do arise go directly to your supervisor to discuss the issues.

Be ready to push forward

After all that hard work and becoming one of the staff and making interpersonal connections, sometimes you won’t get what you want. Sometimes you need to be ready to take the bullet and be ready to be disappointed. This is the hardest part, to find passion in something while you feel unappreciated. No one will ever tell you that being let down is easy, but its all something we have to deal with, having thick skin, being able to move on and be ready for the next time something comes around and not letting the setbacks bother you.

Be humble and accept your mistakes

Accept your failures personally by taking responsibility and correcting the mistake when necessary. When praise is given accept credit as a team effort. Being humble will encourage people to come to you with a mistake, which will encourage professional growth, and by accepting praise as a group effort it will promote team morel and build relationships.

Treat the janitor like the CEO and you will get the respect you deserve

Being the bottom rung lasts longer than what anyone appreciates, but do not forget all you’ve learned on the way up to the top. “Treat the janitor like the CEO and you will get the respect you deserve”.

Don’t forget where you came from or what you had to do to get where you are now. Being able to be the boss you never had to move others into your position when you move up is key.

Inspire others to be successful, bring your colleagues a sense of joy and drive to better themselves.  From the bottom up or from the top down, happiness and respect go a long way.

Bottom line, always speak with respect. People reciprocate the behavior they receive so in turn you will be spoken to with respect. In those unpleasant instances that it is not reciprocated it’s a great CYA (Cover Your A**) tactic to ensure amnesty.  

Encourage others and opportunities will come

Encouraging growth and opportunities in others will encourage good morel and better relationships amongst your coworkers. And bonus: studies also show that participating in acts of selfless behavior promotes the feeling of self-gratitude, positivity, and thus repetitive behavior. 

Don’t be the intern who breaks the printer and then walks away

This piece of advice filters into always asking questions. I have been lucky to be in settings where questions are encouraged. I don’t presume to know everything about everything. If I make a mistake, I ask how I can fix it and make somewhere aware of it. I would rather be remembered for trying to fix a problem I made instead of being remembered for trying to cover it up.

They will be talking about you when you’re not there so make sure they are only talking about your achievements

In competitive workspaces, tensions can build, and people can become selfish. It would be beneficial to keep private things private and let your work speak for itself. I want them to be more focused on all the things I’ve done and less focused on workplace drama that might surround me.

Head to the kitchen for the chat and not the snacks

While occasional visits to the kitchen for the free food are fine, repeated visits tend to add up. Especially if your work is more sedentary, it can be hard to keep a balance healthy lifestyle. It will take effort and the ability to prepack if your workplace doesn’t supply healthy foods that are readily available. At my internship, there would be weekly free food consisting of pizza, pasta, donuts, waffles, and more. While this excited my taste buds, my clothing did tend to fit a little more snugly. I had to limit myself and remember to bring my lunch more often so I wouldn’t succumb to the temptations.

Consider the benefits

Read everything that is handed to you. Don’t just sign documents and think about reading them latter. If a job is serious about hiring you, then consider all the benefits that that will offer you. Even if it takes a long time, I plan to read all the fine details.

When there are issues offer solutions

If an issue arises that you are required to go to your supervisor for, provide them with three possible solutions. This is a great opportunity to prove initiative and show your critical thinking skills. Offer two solid solutions and one out of the box solution to show that you are open and flexible to any outcome. 

If you’re going to slack off, make sure that your work is completed first

While continually slacking off can lead you to trouble, it is ok to be human. It is better to be focused and complete your work to reward yourself than rewarding yourself when your work is not complete. If you’ve completed a milestone in your assignments, take a minute to relax and recoup before moving forward.

Work is not therapy

It is best to keep your work life and your personal life separate. While it might feel refreshing to have new eyes for new perspectives, it is for the best if you save your problems for a therapist. Unless it is something that will affect your work, in which that case should be told to your boss, try to keep your personal problems private.

This can be a way to avoid work gossip and not have your business spread to the intern on the second floor while you are on the eighteenth. People may not always be malicious in their gossip but what they spread can affect you and your career. You want to make sure that if you need a promotion that they will only consider you and your achievements, not what they heard about you through the grapevine.

Be smart about who you partner up with and dress like you know what you’re doing

Both pieces of advice come from an awareness of your workplace. People are more likely to take you seriously if you dress the part. Dressing the part, but also making sure that your partner is up to par as well. If there is going to be an assignment with your name on it, then finding someone who you can trust should be the priority.

Be the go-to person in the office

The value of being the person everyone turns to will allow pathways to open up that you never knew were available. But, in that same breath, I encourage the power of a well placed and polite “No”. It’s hard to be that person that is always willing to take on extra projects of you cannot finish them, and the disappointment if being the bearer of bad new when the project is uncompleted does not outweigh the positives of always volunteering for extra.

Always be ready to accept criticisms, whether it be about your work ethic or your personality

Being successful in a career does not always mean you will be able to be yourself. Sometimes being what people want you to be will go a lot farther than fighting that status quo. It pleasing to those who are looking for successors and supervisors enjoy not having to waste time and energy on another person fighting the system.

Remember though while not sticking out like a sore thumb doesn’t mean you cannot be an insightful team member, speak up and have your voice heard about opinions and ideas. Being the one in the back doesn’t get you much but being the wavemaker doesn’t either. Finding that perfect balance is key.

Give your honest feedback

When someone asks your opinion give him or her your honest opinion. If you disagree that is okay! Be professional and provide supporting evidence for your opinion. Never talk badly about colleagues to anyone; it will not make you look better.

On the contrary, speaking badly of others to boast yourself will portray insecurity in yourself and people will not trust you. A good rule of thumb is to not say anything that you wouldn’t say with that same person in the room. 

You will not always be happy in your job, but being miserable is a reason to leave

Most of us are perfectly happy staying home and indulging in all life has to give us. The problem is we cannot have such indulgences if we do not pay the bills. I’ve always been an advocate of “ I’ll be upset at work, If at home I can afford to play” and in that finding balance is key.

Remember to breathe and think before reacting because it will stop you from acting on impulse and possibly ruining opportunities that would be available to you if you just grin and bear it. On the opposite side of the same coin, that does not give your employer the ability to remove the human element and treat employees like just an asset, you have every right to leave because somewhere else will see something more in you.

Laugh A LOT

You’re with the people you work with 40-45 hours a week, that is more than you are with your own family!

Having good, healthy relationships with your coworkers are detrimental to success. Joke, have fun, laugh and bond, these people will become your family away from family.

Outside of Work

It’s ok to have passions outside of your work

Work is not your life. A person can pursue other interests and can make time to pursue that other interest. Work can overconsume a person’s life. Having an activity or hobby that has nothing to do with work can be a relaxation technique that will benefit a person in the long run. This rang true for our college dropout who built a 7 figure business from her bedroom.

Spend more time with your family

In general, this piece of advice can apply to your life in all aspects. In careers, I think this is one of the most important. No one is going to be here forever. The popular narrative is that many people work hard hours and push themselves to the limit for their families.

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Eventually there is going to be a disconnect of what a person thinks their family needs and what their family needs. This can be solved with prioritizing time with your family and becoming an integral part of your family structure. Personally, I will always choose less money and spending more time with my mother than seeing her any less then I already do.

If you don’t have a purpose, why are you there?

On this endless road to pursuing financial freedom, people can get caught up in the numbers. To many, the chance to make millions is their goal for why they continue to get up and go to a job they despise. Without a purpose, money is just an empty goal. There must be a reason why you go to work every morning.

While not every day is going to be exciting, a purpose can remind you of why this experience is going to be worth it. Life is too short and relationships with others do not last forever. Living a fulfilling life appeals to me more than living an empty life full of stuff. The happiest people are the ones who know what they are contributing and knows that what they are doing is important.

Leave work where it belongs

When you leave for the day leave all of the problems at work as well. Give yourself time to go home, see your family, and decompress. Don’t bring stressors home that could impact the quality of time you have alone or with your family.

Growing pains are a real thing

Becoming a fully functional person of society is difficult and in making the transition everyone seems to be an expert. There seems to be an unwritten rulebook about not giving someone the truth when they move out of the nest and start building a life and career for themselves.

Hundreds of self-help books and motivational videos have been made and very few touch on the subjects that need to be told but just aren’t. Life is about lessons and not all of them are cookie-cutter exactly the same, so the first of many things to keep in mind is to be easily adaptable and say “Yes!” to everything.

Compartmentalizing work helps creates resilience

The ability of compartmentalizing creates resiliency. By compartmentalizing one bad thing will not affect your whole day, one professional disagreement with a colleague will not ruin a relationship.

You will be able to come out of a meeting where you receive a bad outcome and still be able to have a good day. ‘It’s not a bad day; it’s a bad 10 minutes’ is the best mantra to ensure a successful day.

What is the Best Career Advice?

There are no easy cookie cutter guidelines to obtain success but this is my advice to increase your odds and enjoy the process along the way.

A lot of these statements go back to kindergarten rules; treat others how you want to be treated (don’t gossip or undercut people), change your clothes when you have grass stains (have confidence and look presentable), shower when you have dirt on your elbows (general cleanliness is encouraged), keep your hands to yourself (verbally in this case) and say please and thank you (be appreciative and humble).

The difference now is that breaking one of these rules won’t just cost you ten minutes in time out; it could ruin your reputation or exclude you from a promotion. If ever in doubt, and you can’t remember my very specific pieces of advice, think back to your kindergarten rules.

Bottom Line on Career Advice for Young Professionals

After doing all of these you cannot be successful without the basis of a career knowledge and common sense. Show up on time, you cannot do the job if you are not there, Be ready for anything, know your worth but don’t jeopardize your career for ego, think before you speak and say yes but learn the value of no. In any type of career, job, profession or in life, they are the advice that very few speak of.

While I have received countless advice, these are the few that I’ve created to circulate in my mind. It brings me comfort to know that I have a few guidelines that I can fall back to.

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