Developing your professional skills is something that never stops, and continues to happen throughout the entirety of your career. There’s always more to learn and skills to start to master, and there’s no better time to get a start on it than in your 20s.
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The sooner you start, the sooner you’re great at something. From getting our finances under control to forming foundations for professional success, getting solid career habits under your belt is the key to long-term success. Looking to make strides in your career this year? Getting in these 10 habits early on in your career will set you up for continued growth in your work world.
1. Step out of your comfort zone
Get comfortable now doing the things that make you uncomfortable. While it might seem counterintuitive, the early stages of your career are the best times to take a risk. Everything is about learning, and you have so much space to make mistakes and get right back up and start over.
A comfort zone busting habit can be something small but should be routine. Think about pushing yourself to do one “stretch thing” a week and jot a reminder in your calendar to keep yourself accountable. This can be any number of things whether you ask you the new girl out to lunch or raise your ideas in a meeting you’re normally silent at.
2. Make the most of your Sundays
Mondays get a lot of air time as the day we need to command, but how you habitually tackle your Sunday also sets you up for a week of success. If Sundays have always still felt like 100 percent “weekend” time, start committing to carving out just an hour or two in the late afternoon to do things that tee you up for productive work week. This can be scheduling workouts or meal prepping lunches to help ensure you’ve got your wellness goals mapped out to be your best productive employee.
When you’ve mastered that, tack on another hour to invest in some professional development goals. Read industry journals that you normally haven’t, take an online class to beef up your technical skills or tackle a new podcast series. Getting in the habit of seeing at least a little of Sunday as part of your work week sets you up to ease into a great Monday.
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3. Give and take constructive feedback
Taking constructive feedback gracefully demonstrates maturity and the ability to grow professionally. You’ll also be practicing your own leadership skills if you work on how you deliver feedback to colleagues. The best employees are those that make a team’s success their responsibility and take it upon themselves to shape the output of a group with constructive feedback.
Did a colleague knock it out of the park on a presentation? Let her know if you hear the client say something impressive about her. Struggling to get along with a colleague over a deadline? Being able to articulate and resolve challenging relationships in a team environment is one of the best skills you can develop early in your career.
4. Negotiate like a boss
We hear a lot about negotiations attached to our salary, but in reality, it’s a skill that you’ll need to apply throughout myriad work situations. For example, when your team is given a big project, you’ll often be negotiating who is taking what work, or what reasonable timelines are. You can learn how to negotiate, and be sure you’re applying this skill to your entire compensation at a job, not just your salary!
5. Network with an executive mindset
Networking with an executive mindset means that you are connecting with people with the intent of a long-term relationship. Early in our careers, networking is touted as the essential way to learn the ropes and get exposed to great job opportunities. While true, you start developing a whole different level of networking sophistication when you can thoughtfully maintain a network as well as think about how you can pay it forward. Get in the habit of keeping in touch with connections by flagging articles you think they may find interesting or catching up over coffee, especially when you don’t have a particular career need in mind.
6. Manage your social media
There really is no better time to learn that the internet is forever. Whatever your social media footprint, be savvy about your privacy settings and know that even at their best, leaks happen. Think about the professional version of you 10 years from now. Will that girl be proud of what’s going up on Instagram today?
On the plus side, don’t underestimate the power of starting to build your professional brand now. Little bits of content, presence, and social media effort really add up over time. Consider starting a professional site with a landing page that gives prospective employers a look at your accomplishments and background. At the very least, be sure you have a LinkedIn page, as it remains relevant for professional connections in most industries.
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7. Update your resume(s)
Especially in the early stages of our career, there are always a number of different paths where our job interests could take us. Consider spending some time creating several different versions of your resume tailored to the major categories of work you might find yourself pursuing. They certainly may overlap a little, but you’ll start to see that it can be extremely valuable to emphasize different skill sets, responsibilities, and talents depending on the next role you’re looking at.
Even if you only have one go-to resume, take the time to make it up to date just in case any opportunities arise.
8. Keep a rolling brag sheet
Brag sheets are a little different than your official performance review or public resume. Think of them as a running list of talking points that have a greater level of detail about all the awesome things you are doing at the office. Did a colleague or mentor give you some great feedback on how your contributions really sealed the deal on a project? Do you have stats about how your content creation pulled in new eyeballs or clients? While some of these are resume relevant, often this granular level of detail is best left for conversations. Keep one going, and look at it before you have an interview or a performance review to gain talking points.
9. Dressing for the next job
This isn’t news, but it is critical to your early career success and it is the cornerstone of beginning to build your executive presence. In your 20s, you’re constantly making career first impressions, meaning you have both prolific opportunities to impress (and to not get it quite right).
One of the best habits you can get into in this category is remembering to always treat work events just like that: as work events. Happy Hour with the crew? Good times! But you’re still a work event, so it means that on the dress code scale you want to land somewhere between what you’d be wearing at the 9-5 and what you’d be wearing in a friends-only crew on Saturday night.
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10. Compete against yourself
One of the best habits you can sustain for career development is comparing yourself to your own potential and goals. Especially at the early parts of our career, it can be easy to look sideways at what everyone else is doing, how much money people are making, or even what cool new company they get to work for.
The earlier in our careers that we can reaffirm that we’re only competing against ourselves, the more joy we’ll be able to find along the way. Treating every opportunity as a way to grow from the person you were yesterday ends up making the journey so much more fulfilling.
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