Wisdom//

5 Things Everyone Should Do in Their 20s to Get Ahead in Their Career

It’s all about understanding your goals and skills.

dotshock/Shutterstock
dotshock/Shutterstock

If you’re new to the workforce and looking to stand out from the pack, the best thing you can do is forge your own path. Part of that means not letting your parents take a leading role in the development of your budding career.

Following the recent college admissions scandal, the New York Times commissioned a survey to gain insight on the lengths that some parents would go to further their adult children’s career — and the results are disturbing. Parents typically only want what’s best for their children, but it’s entirely possible for that to go too far.

The Times survey found many parents of people aged 18 to 28 have no problem taking action that ranges from unconventional to unethical when it comes to making sure their kids get or retain a job. For example, 11 percent of those surveyed said they would actually contact their child’s employer if there was an issue they thought needed to be addressed at work. Also troubling is the 16 percent of respondents who said that they had written at least a portion of their child’s job or internship application.

Not only does this make the parents look like meddlers who don’t trust that their kids are smart enough to succeed on their own, but it also makes their adult children look incapable, as well as limits their resiliency and resourcefulness, experts say. But aside from not having their parents do their work for them, what else can young professionals in their 20s do to stand out in their workplace or job search? Here are some tips for how to get a leg up.

Know some finance basics

In your 20s, one of the biggest favors you can do yourself is to get smart about finances, Alan Benson, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities tells Thrive Global.

“Researchers using randomized experiments have found that just giving people in their 20s some very basic information — like average earnings for their chosen field, or how much each dollar saved today will be worth in retirement — can have big effects on the fields they enter and how much they save,” Benson explains. “So even if money is not the most important thing, it pays to be informed!”

Do your research

Fortunately for those in their 20s, the job market is historically hot, Benson says. But just because most people who want jobs can find them, that doesn’t mean that everyone gets their pick. So when you do find the job that you want, make sure you do your research about the company, the people you’ll be meeting with, and their recent wins. “Recruiters will be impressed when you’ve gone beyond the job posting to learn about the company and their culture,” he adds.

Try things out

You may not know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life by the time you’re in your 20s — and that’s OK. According to Benson, most people are unlikely to have the same career in their 20s as they have in their 30s, so it’s a great time to learn, grow, and figure out if that is the right path for you. “And since you’re in your 20s, employers are more likely to embrace your interest in growth and career exploration, and are generally more forgiving if you haven’t had experience with every scenario that arises at work,” he adds. Use that to your advantage by raising your hand to volunteer for interesting-sounding projects and join teams from whom you want to learn.

Capitalize on the skills that set you apart

Sure, people in their 20s may not have the same years of experience as their older counterparts, but the key is to focus on the skills they do have that set them apart, Jessica R. Methot, Ph.D., associate professor of human resources management at Rutgers University tells Thrive. Digital literacy is a great example.

Many organizations are going through a digital transformation by redesigning their operations for digital business models and using technology to deliver HR and business solutions, Methot explains. The result is a digital talent gap, and in the next five years, the demand for talent to deliver on these new capabilities will outstrip supply, she says. The good news for people in their 20s is that digital talent includes knowledge and skills — like navigating social media, conducting online research, or picking up new technology — typically concentrated in the millennial generation, so don’t be shy about highlighting these on your resumés and cover letters.

Develop a supportive network

Never underestimate the power of good advice and support. Methot recommends developing a supportive network of people who will serve as your personal board of advisors — who are not your parents. “These are people who take an active interest in and action to advance your career, but are not formally assigned,” she explains. Your network should consist of people in different hierarchical levels (senior to you, peers) who work both inside and outside your organization. According to Methot, this group can provide perspective, support, counseling, coaching, and sponsorship, which can help you strive for stretch assignments and become more visible.

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