This week, my little sister started her first full-time job.
I KNOW! I’m super proud.
And I KNOW! I’m super old.
Just kidding. I’m not that old. But the expedited nature of my career thus far has enabled me to learn a ton of valuable lessons in a relatively short period of time. So I feel old, in a good way.
It’s so exciting to watch lil sis begin her professional journey. It’s also had me thinking about what advice I want to give her, and to other young professionals trying to succeed in this crazy, competitive world. AND I am giving a presentation to the interns at work about this very topic too this week, so, it’s pretty much fate, right?!
Let’s start with a little context before we dive into my profound wisdom. Also, so we can answer the “Why the heck should we listen to you?!” –question you might have.
My career has been very fast-tracked and multifarious. A whirl-wind of what I once thought would be impossible. But here we are.
I’m currently an Associate Director of SEO and Data for a media company in New York City, the founder of a growing small business (a la Her Track), a freelance digital consultant, a speaker, and a writer. I’m also just 25 years old.
It’s worth noting that I don’t come from a particularly well-connected or well-off background that might have easily enabled me to advance so quickly. Because I know that’s a big advantage and at times something that does apply to people who write these types of articles. But that’s not me.
So, in other terms, I’m probably just like you!
*Internet high five*
It doesn’t matter where you came from.
All you really need to succeed is the fight—A fire in your belly that fuels your will-power and motivation every single day. That’s step one. These tips are the rest of the steps, but believing in yourself and really being willing to work hard is always step one.
I learned the rest of this wisdom along the way. Mostly from a messy compilation of wins and losses. But also from mentors and research, from reading articles like this one and from always being open to the impact of good advice.
So, I hope something in this list helps you do the same, my young grasshopper.
40 Career Tips for Young Professionals
1. Remember, you’re only the youngest and least experienced person in the room if that’s who you believe yourself to be. I want to scream this tip from the mountain tops because it’s something I’ve seen hold back so many young professionals, and I too struggled with it earlier in my career. I’d look around the room, mostly composed of men 15-20 years my senior, with far more experience and prestige than I had, and I would minimize myself. I’d question what right I even had to speak up or contribute ideas. It took some time, and coaching from amazing mentors, to realize that I had earned my seat at that table too. I was there to do my job, and if I wasn’t damn good at it, I wouldn’t be there at all. That’s how you have to feel too. Don’t belittle yourself. You’re capable and your contributions are valuable.
2. Say thank you. Write thank you letters. Reply thank you to instant messages and emails. Be both outwardly and internally grateful to others.
When it comes to succeeding as a young professional, it really does take a village and you’re not getting there on your own.
3. Work, work, and work some more. It seems self-evident, but you have to work to learn. I realized the other day that I haven’t been without a job since I was 15 years old. I’ve also been working in SEO (my full-time career) since I was 19 years old. I’ve, simply put, had a head start, and that’s one of the most obvious reasons I’ve been able to advance as quickly as I have. Every one of my best friends that are CRUSHING it early in their careers has also been a life-long worker and started with internships. You can have a head start too! Keep working and learning as much as you can, and as soon as you can.
4. Hone your soft skills just as much as you do your technical skills. Being able to communicate, compromise, problem-solve and work with different teams and stakeholders is an invaluable trait for any professional, but especially for those just starting out. It proves you’re willing to grow in ALL ways to reach your goals, and that you’re a true team player.
5. Stay out of work drama. Seriously, OUT OF IT. Don’t date your coworkers. Don’t talk about people behind their backs. Don’t spread rumors. And BEWARE of company drinking events. First of all, it shows your age. Second of all, it can set you and your reputation back drastically and for something stupid, that has nothing to do with your capabilities. So just avoid that crap like the plague.
6. Leave any kind of entitlement at the door. I wrote a whole, brutally honest article about this one, In the Real World, Everyone Doesn’t Get a Trophy, because I think it’s really really important to understand that no one owes you anything in the workplace. If you think that every day, you’ll constantly be discouraged.
It’s harsh, and sometimes maybe even unfair, but you have to know that you aren’t entitled to success, you’re just entitled to the opportunity to earn it. The rest is up to you.
7. Say yes. If given the opportunity to take on a new project, try a new endeavor or gain a new set of skills, say yes. I’ve said yes to so many crazy things over the years. And sometimes it’s hilariously blown up in my face. But about 90% of the time, it’s brought something fresh and enriching into my life. You have to be open to new things, and willing to take on new challenges if you want to move forward.
8. You can never let the fear of outperforming your peers hold you back. It’s uncomfortable, and maybe even a little isolating to professionally surpass people you want to like you. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it sucks. But this isn’t high school. Anyone who really supports you is going to want to see you succeed no matter what. And if you want to succeed, you can’t lose sleep over the sheep, baby.
9. Remember you have to start somewhere to get somewhere. I first started working at an ice cream shop, where I found joy in scraping gum off the parking lot with a paint chipper. And you best believe I see EVEN that job as one important step on the road to a skyscraper in New York City overlooking the Hudson.
Everybody has to start somewhere, and the best thing you can do is be humble, and glean every ounce of knowledge you possibly can out of every experience.
10. Take the time to say goodbye. I HATE goodbyes. I can’t even explain how much I hate goodbyes. But every time I have avoided one, personally or professionally, I’ve deeply regretted it. Co-workers can become like family, they certainly have for me. Especially mentors and confidants who have shaped who I’ve become. You have to take the time to thank them, say goodbye and keep connected.
11. Actually stay in touch with those people you said goodbye to. Your networking circle is often filled with people you used to work with, and it’s so important to cultivate this in a way that’s authentic and genuine. Reach out to check in on people every once in a while, stay connected on LinkedIn, and keep them in your communications. You NEVER know if that person has the key to open the door to your next opportunity.
12. Surrond yourself with friends who have similar goals and aspirations. Who you spend time with really does matter. Seeing my friends also HUSTLING for their dreams is so motivating and empowering. We can also have productive dialogues and give each other really helpful, intelligent advice. I am beyond thankful for their presence in my life and know they directly make me a better person and professional. You deserve the same.
13. Be aware of your own capability to shape a NEW path for yourself from the example of someone else. Maybe you aren’t thrilled about the job you’re in. That’s ok. Ask yourself if there is someone you work with in some capacity that DOES have the kind of job you’d be interested in. Consult your boss, and if it’s OK, pull this person aside and ask if you can sit in on meetings or conference calls with them. Offer up your extra time to help them out on projects. It’s an added effort, but sometimes it’s how you find a role that really makes you happy.
14. Address interpersonal conflict head-on. If you feel like you’re starting to have friction or a strained relationship with a coworker, invite them for a cup of coffee and talk it out. Sometimes all people need is a little breather and the space to speak candidly in a different environment. And every time I’ve done this we both walk away understanding the other person’s perspective SO much more. Again, back to the stay out of work drama tip, passive-aggressively feuding with a colleague behind each other’s backs does NOBODY any favors.
15. Don’t wait until yearly reviews to get feedback. Ask for ways that you can improve all the time from your peers and managers.
Pro tip: Feedback is SO much easier to receive when you ask for it. Trust me.
16. Do your homework. Remember that substantiating your recommendations with data, research and facts will always be more effective than walking into a room with your opinion.
17. Time management is everything. Seriously, everything. Read the post below for a cool dive into my time management tips.
18. Actively seek mentors. I can’t possible explain how much value my mentors over the years have brought into my career. Having someone in your corner that is constantly advocating for you, giving you a seat at the table and pushing you to be better changes everything for young professionals. You can either look within your current company or venture outside. There are also programs like Ambition in Motion that might already be running through your organization or college, so be sure to look into all the options you have available for mentorship.
19. Master the art of intelligently saying “I don’t know.” If you don’t know something, don’t answer. Say: “I’m actually not completely sure about that, and I’m going to confirm with my colleagues,” OR “I’m going to do some additional research,” and then “I will follow up with you as soon as possible.” It shows your commitment to accuracy when you’re answering questions, and it keeps you from being caught in a lie and losing credibility.
20. Take notes. Always always always take freaking notes.
21. Practice empathy every day. Think about the perspectives of the stakeholders that you work with, the teams involved and the priorities you might not see at surface level. Assess the different contributors and what they bring to the table. Be thoughtful and thorough when you approach conflict-resolution, problem-solving and difficult discussions. Remember, it’s never all about you.
22. Learn and respect the communication styles of different people. Every person you work with, from bosses to peers to clients, is unique. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to communication. Consider who prefers a quick instant message, and who is more comfortable with a detailed email. Consider which of your coworkers respond better to a formal conversation style, and which appreciate a more casual and personal tone. It makes ALL the difference in building relationships and getting things done.
23. Keep meetings on track. Have an agenda and set of goals you’re working to for every meeting that you lead. It shows that you’re organized, structured and that you respect your colleagues’ time. Also, if you’re leading a meeting, don’t be afraid to bring the conversation back to the agenda if it starts to go off track. Calmly say something like, “Hey, I want to be mindful of the time and we still have a lot of things to get through on the agenda. Is everyone ok if we table this topic for now?” Or jump in with an actionable next step, committing to address the concerns/issues raised as one of the action items from the meeting. It might take being a little interuptive to say these things, but everyone will appreciate it.
24. Be willing to go the extra mile for the people you value. Work relationships are just like any relationship, it’s give-and-take. If you need somebody to come through for you, then you have to be willing to come through for them. Being known as some who is consistently and unwaveringly reliable is a great reputation to have.
25. Always be working towards the next promotion or salary increase. Read my step-by-step guide on how to do that below.
26. Be curious. Ask questions. Sit in on meetings. Find out what your other colleagues are working on. Keeping looking for opportunities to learn more.
27. Your calendar has to become your best friend. Time is something that can easily get away from you. In addition to booking time for meetings and specific events, schedule time to account for less-finite but equally important tasks, like research, meeting prep, answering emails, and the things that you wouldn’t necessarily think take up a lot of time, but often do. This will save you a million headaches down the road if you get into this habit.
28. Sometimes you DO have to move out to move up. It’s frustrating, but it’s true. If you really have exhausted all options in your current role, like talking to your boss and learning from someone else as I mentioned above, be willing to leave. Don’t get stuck. Keep moving forward.
29. Remember how important work-life balance is. Read our guide below on how to spot growing problems with this tip.
30. Transparency and honesty are unbelievably important. Say what you mean and mean what you say, and you earn the respect of everyone around you as well as their trust.
31. Don’t get too swept up in office politics. Depending upon where you work, there might be some team vs team or hierarchical politics at play. Remember that none of that matters. At the end of the day, you work for the same company. And you’re all people; people there to do their jobs.
32. Keep in mind that your expectations might not be fulfilled where you’re at, even if you thought it was the perfect job when you started. Check out the article below about what happens when your dream job turns out not to be your dream, and what to do about that.
33. Invest in key accessories: Get a really nice backpack that protects your hardware. Coming from somebody who’s broken multiple work laptops after being smashed by other humans the subway, it’s important to protect that thing. Get a pair of really comfortable sneakers and also a few solid formal outfits for events. Pack a sweater and an umbrella. Splurge on a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
34. Go to conferences and events. Seriously, they are more than just free food and booze. Conferences can provide you with hot-off-the-press information about your industry, new strategy ideas and amazing networking.
35. Get your team’s insight before you go to conferences and share your learnings. Before I go to a big conference, I send the agenda to my boss to see what sessions he or she would like for me to attend most. Then I share it with my coworkers as well. And when I return, I present my learnings to the group and demonstrate the value I got from the conference. That’s how you get to attend these events on the company’s dime, by making the most of the opportunity.
36. Listen, and pay attention. One of the first and easiest ways you can start to build trust and reliance from a superior is by helping them remember facts and details of the projects you work on together. I do this with my bosses and it stands out to me as a manager. People in senior leadership have 1 million things to remember and work with many teams. So, when you show up every day well-prepared and they can even lean on you for accurate information and little details, it means a lot.
37. Keep up with industry trends. Find a few blogs and industry publications and engage with them on a regular basis. I follow them on Twitter, have desktop notifications set up and receive their email newsletters. It makes keeping up with the trends a lot easier, and I’ve found some really fantastic ideas from those articles.
38. Remember that credibility takes a long time to build and can easily be lost, just like trust. Ensure that if you’re putting your stamp of approval on something that you truly do approve of it and have done your due diligence to make sure that it’s true, accurate and well-completed.
39. Take care of your health, and know that it impacts your work. Your health impacts your productivity and success WAY more than I thought it would when I was younger. I learned THAT lesson the hard way. If you don’t sleep, if you don’t eat well, if you aren’t in decent shape, if you are coming to work hungover– you are just not as sharp or fluid or creative as you would be if you took good care of yourself. If you want to succeed and you want to succeed quickly, you need to make sure that your body is in the condition to allow you to do so.
40. Above all, be true to yourself. I received this advice from a mentor at one of my last internships and it has always stuck with me. She said that people were going to try to change me– try to make more like everybody else. But that it was what made me DIFFERENT that allowed me to stand out and succeed.
So, whatever it is about you that makes you different, that makes you special and uniquely capable, hold on to that. Cultivate it. Cherish it. Believe in it.
And believe in yourself.
The world truly is your oyster, and being a young professional only means the best is yet to come.