True, your twenties are sort of the “experimental” period of your career. You’re just a few years in, and you’re feeling out what you want to do, where you want to go, and who you want to be.
But, that doesn’t mean your twenties aren’t important. For one, the average salary growth between the time you graduate college and your 30th birthday is 60% … which is the steepest it will ever be. Plus, your twenties are the period in your adult life where you’ll likely have the fewest financial and personal responsibilities (i.e. a mortgage, kids, a spouse), so it’s arguably the best time to focus on your career and find out what it is that does make you happy.
Of course, establishing a kick-ass career just a few years out of school is easier said than done. So, we tapped Amanda Augustine, career expert at TheLadders, to share her must-follow advice for getting ahead in your 20s. Take notes.
(Want more from Amanda? Boston readers, you can meet her, and Marie Claire editor Courtney Weinblatt tomorrow night, October 16, 2014, at Ann Taylor, where they’ll be talking career advice, and offering tips on dressing for success! See full invite and RSVP info at the bottom of this post!)
Clean up your online presence.
If one of the company’s executives decided to check you out online, what would they find? A well-branded online presence is just as important for a career-driven professional as it is for an active job seeker. Google your name and review the first page of results. Does each listing support or weaken your professional brand? Hide your personal accounts and flesh out at least one professional profile such as LinkedIn or About.Me.
Take a seat at the table.
If you’re attending a meeting that’s sure to be crowded, get there early and take a seat at the table rather than automatically standing or grabbing a chair on the outskirts of the room. That way, you’re in an easier position to join in the conversation and voice your opinion. If you have something to contribute to the discussion, speak up – don’t wait for an opening to appear, as you may miss your window.
Use your first and last name.
How many people do you know named Jessica or Sarah? Women are more likely to introduce themselves using their first names only, making it easier to be forgotten in the crowd or during a busy meeting. Whether you’re networking during your free time or attending a business meeting, it’s best to initially introduce yourself to others using your full name. Not only will you sound more professional, but you’re likely to be more memorable. Leave the first name-only introductions to Madonna and Beyoncé.
Make networking a priority.
Networking isn’t just for job seekers. In fact, the most successful professionals are often excellent networkers. Networking is a great way to sharpen your skills, keep a pulse on the trends in your field, meet a mentor, and uncover hidden job leads you won’t find anywhere else. Start building a strong network early in your career that you can nurture and leverage as you process progress on your path.
Follow up and follow through.
What you do after a networking event or business meeting is just as important – if not more important – than what happens at the actual event. Don’t forget to follow up with each person you meet and connect with them online so you can continue building rapport over time. If you promised to set up a meeting, type up notes or make an introduction, be sure to do so, and in a timely manner. It’s important to demonstrate that you follow through on your promises.
Never stop learning.
The best way to maintain a long, prosperous career is to never stop learning. Seek out professional development opportunities through relevant webcasts, Meetups, and other membership associations. Prove that you are a valuable resource to your employer by sharing your new-found knowledge with the members of your team.
Recruit the right mentor.
The right mentor can be a powerful tool in your career arsenal. In fact, Sheila Wellington, former president of Catalyst Foundation and author of Be Your Own Mentor, believes it’s one of the main reasons why men tend to rise higher than women in the workplace – men are more likely than women to have mentors throughout their careers. The right mentor can shape your professional skills, teach you the ins and outs of your industry, help you navigate corporate politics, overcome adversity, and introduce you to the right people and resources to advance your career.
Avoid the “ums”
Gen-Yers are notorious for being too casual during the interview process and other formal business settings. If you’re in your twenties and looking to get ahead, take heed. Check and double-check any written communication. Remember, spellcheck can’t tell the difference between “read” and “red.” When speaking, avoid slang terminology (i.e. “yeah” “uh-huh”) and filler words (“so”, “um”, “like”). Even if your client seems laid back and relaxed, you don’t have permission to act or sound unprofessional.
Stop apologizing all the time.
Women have a tendency to apologize in the workplace, even when we’ve done nothing wrong. While you may think you’re merely being polite, you’re actually hurting your image. Think about it: If you’re apologizing all the time, you’re unintentionally telling your boss that you make a lot of little mistakes. And as Lee E. Miller and Jessica Miller point out in their book, A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating, men will often interpret this behavior as a sign of weakness or a lack of conviction. So whether you’re closing a business deal or negotiating your compensation, don’t be apologetic.
Advertise your accomplishments.
As Sheila Wellington writes in her book, Be Your Own Mentor, “false modesty has no place in an ambitious woman’s office tool kit.” If you want to get ahead, you not only have to deliver results above expectations – you have to be recognized for your accomplishments. If you’re working on a project that’s going well, don’t be afraid to share your enthusiasm with your boss. At the end of the project, share the results — especially if they were good. You can’t be promoted if no one is aware of your great work.
Build a brag sheet.
Document your major contributions and achievements so you’re always prepared to discuss the value you bring to the organization. This is especially useful when you’re updating your professional profiles, sitting down for your annual review or preparing to ask for a raise or promotion with your boss. When you’re armed with data, it’s easier to approach these conversations with confidence.
It goes without saying that you should be a model employee. Look for opportunities to pitch in and go above and beyond. Your manager will appreciate your initiative and may reward you with projects that are more challenging or require you to take on greater responsibility. However, don’t wait to be recognized and rewarded by your manager. If you want to get ahead, you need to make your aspirations known and ask for what you want. Remember, you – not your boss – are ultimately in charge of your career.
It’s an old joke (or truism?) that men refuse to stop and ask for directions. (Really, how hard is it to admit that you’re lost?) While this tactic makes no sense on the road, it does provide a valuable lesson for the workplace. The fact of the matter is that men are taught as children to hide their fear when faced with challenging situations – and that can be a benefit on the job. Most executives agree that confidence is essential to being a good leader and strong negotiator. You have to exhibit self-assurance, even when you’re in a high-pressure crisis. Keep this in mind when you’re assuming a new role or running your first high-stakes project at your companywork.
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