5 Pieces of Career Advice for Young Professionals

Young professionals are everywhere in the working world these days. In fact, according to the Department for Professional Employees, in the U.S. there were 17.2 million young professionals who were in the workforce in 2016. Their definition of a young professional is anyone “aged 20 through 34 who are working in a professional or technical occupation.” For context, that is about the same size as the entire country of Netherlands (per the United Nations)!

Young employees are taking over the workforce. As has been widely publicized, the Baby Boomers are retiring, which is leaving a void in offices across the country. Who better to fill their shoes than young, willing, and eager employees? They want to be successful. They want to progress their careers. They want to do good for their customers and the world. Young employees want to be impactful on themselves and others. And employers need to recognize this and give them the tools and opportunities to do so.

A big challenge Corporate State University sees, though, is that companies do not know how to give these young employees the proper tools to succeed. There is often little done by way of training these employees, outside of the standard, boring orientations that all companies are required to do so they do not get sued. As Michael Scott from The Office would say:

The training traditionally provided in new employee orientation does not help young professionals. What young professionals need is sound, solid career advice they can use when they are in the office. Rather than teaching our employees the do’s and don’ts of the office and what the cultural norms are, we should be teaching them how to make an impact. How to progress their careers. How to get a promotion. How to send an email. And how to communicate effectively.

These five pieces of career advice will make a positive impact on you as a young professional from the moment you read them. We present to you, 5 Pieces of Career Advice for Young Professionals:

5. Do not hide behind email or IM

Email is an amazing tool. If you think about how business was done 50 years ago (something we have no experience with), you had to send a fax in order to get an image or contract from someone across the country. And you had to *gasp* actually call someone to talk with them! And today, you don’t need to do either of those. You have someone’s email address and you reach out to them with the message you want to convey. But email robs you of some level of human connection and interaction. You can, and should, take advantage of the opportunity to call someone and spark up a casual conversation. How many emails have you sent where you learned about what a potential client did this past weekend? Answer: probably zero. Even better than calling them, go over to their desk or visit them at their store. Face to face is way better.

Email is so easy to send out. But it is not as effective as the age-old method of speaking to others. Same thing goes for instant messenger (IM). You can hold a “conversation” with someone, but it probably looks more like two teenagers talking than a true, productive discussion.

Pick up the phone. Pick up your feet and go talk to someone.

4. Action > everything

Especially as a young professional, it is easy to be timid. You do not want to mess something up. You assume that ideas and systems have been in place and that there is a reason they are there. You do not want to get in trouble (whatever that means). So you continue to go about your day, letting time and opportunity pass you by.

If you want to take control of your career, you must take action. If you want to take on a project, go for it. Do not wait for your manager to assign it or tell you if you can do it. Why do you need their permission anyway? Besides, waiting for your manager to grant you permission for taking on a project that you are interested in is just wasting time that you could’ve been working on the project!

The saying goes, “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Taking action means you do not care about, or need, anyone’s permission. Go for it.

If you ask yourself: “what is the worst thing that can happen if I do this?” You will free yourself from the mental blocks that you’ve created. Take action. Life is too short to wait for permission anyway, especially at work.

3. Protect your time

According to a study done by The Muse, 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings. That number is an average of all employees’ times, too, so your percentage of time in meetings may be higher or lower. 15% of your time is a lot. Imagine if instead of having 24 hours in a day you only had 20.4 hours. That is a massive difference. Over the course of the year you lose almost 55 days! That’s nearly two months! Crazy!

Too often young professionals, among other professionals, accept all meetings that come onto their calendar. You assume that if you were invited, you must attend. You assume you are special and important for being invited. The reality is, you do not need to attend every meeting. Most of them will serve you no benefit. People invite others to meetings without actually thinking about who truly is required to be there. The time on your calendar is yours, after all. Your manager doesn’t own your time. Your company doesn’t own your time. You do. So you should protect it.

All too often employees complain of having too many meetings and not enough time for actual work. If that is the case, you need to protect your time and block off time to do actual work. Block off time to read and reply to emails. Block off time for lunch. Do whatever you need to do in order to get done what you need to get done each day. 

Ultimately, do not let your calendar take you over. You control your time. So you need to protect it from others abusing it.

2. Networking truly is key

When it comes time for end of year promotions to be awarded, company leadership sits in a room with a list of names and, essentially, gossips about how each employee performs. Based on those gossip sessions, promotions are awarded. Now what does “perform” mean in this case? It means they did their job and that people can and will vouch for them as being strong employees. The best way to get peers and leaders to vouch for you is for them to know who you are. You need to make connections with these people!

The thing is, too, that you do not really need to talk to these employees about work-related items. Ask them about their lives, interests, and their families. By asking more personal questions, you are building a relationship. This is “networking.” Even if your relationships with others are built on more personal questions, rather than work questions, they will think highly of you because you went out of your way to get to know them. This will reflect positively on you when the time comes for those end of year promotion gossip sessions.  

Networking will also make your time at work more enjoyable. When you surround yourself with people you enjoy talking to and working with, your time spent in the office is that much more impactful.

Who you network with is also important. Setting aside time each month or two to get more familiar with your peers outside of the day-to-day is critical. You want them to have your back, and you should have theirs. Building strong connections with fellow young professionals will greatly benefit you down the road - after all, they will progress with your career. And you also need to get to know some leaders - they are the ones in those gossip sessions, right? Talk to them and learn from their experiences. Most leaders, though they may claim to be busy, want to help out young professionals. Don’t be shy about setting up time on their calendar to get to know them better.

1. Be yourself

Last, but not least, be yourself! It is so easy and tempting to come into a work setting and try to be someone who you are not. You may think you need to be “the expert” or “the funny guy” or “smarter than you really are.” But people will see through all of those. They can tell right away that you are not being yourself.

You can spend a lot of time building out a persona and applying that to work. But that is a big waste of time! You should spend your time being yourself, which will make you, and your colleagues, more comfortable.

By being yourself, you can just get started on building relationships with others. Your colleagues will get to know the true you, and you will get to know the true them. And you can focus on your work, instead of being someone else.

This is an easy trap to fall into. We all come into a job and think we were hired for one thing or another. But the reason you were hired is because of you. Not to fill a position that focuses on finance, for example. They hired you. A human being with emotions, a sense of humor, and a smile. Be yourself and avoid being who you think you ought to be.