April 1, 2015

25 Smart Career Moves You Should Make by 25

Read more about Career Advice

The early years of your career are critical. Set out to make these moves by the time you're 25, and you'll be setting yourself up for a successful career.

Your early 20s are a prime time for figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life, especially your career. But there’s no time to waste.

By making these 25 moves by the time your 25th birthday rolls around, you’ll be setting yourself up for a successful career.

LANDING YOUR FIRST JOB

Finding the right gig is all about knowing how to sell yourself to employers, so we've got a few tips for polishing your professional image.

1. Clean up your social media accounts

If you've been interviewing for job after job but you're not getting any nibbles, your social media accounts may be the problem. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 43% of employers check social media profiles before making hiring decisions, so remove any risqué photos or off-color comments before you send out any more résumés.

2. Make your résumé stand out

Speaking of your résumé, don't think you have to stick with the same old tried-and-true format. Making a video résumé or creating an interactive digital version may take a little more time than just typing out your work history, but it can pay off if your creativity or tech savvy catches the eye of your dream employer.

Tip: Words to Delete from Your Resume

3. Play up past experiences

If your job history is on the skimpy side, be sure to highlight any relevant experience you've had outside of the workforce. Studying abroad, for example, can make you more employable, according to a study from the Rotterdam School of Management. This is the time to brag about extracurricular activities, like volunteer work and part-time jobs, to show that you have a good work ethic (you can remove these when you apply for your second job).

Related: How Studying Abroad Changes You

4. Have your elevator pitch ready

An elevator pitch is a brief 15- to 30-second spiel that encompasses who you are and what you do. Any time you're networking or meeting prospective employers, you need to have your pitch at the ready. If you're struggling to perfect yours, think of it as a commercial where you're the product and focus only on key selling points (e.g., your experience, your work ethic). Practice before you go to a networking event and before interviews.

5. Become an interview pro

You have just one chance at the job interview to win over a potential employer. You don’t want to come across as a know-it-all, but you also won’t do yourself any favors if you come across as meek or lacking confidence. Research shows people who are full of themselves and are aggressive about promoting how great they are do better at job interviews. The reason? They know how to work a room; they make eye contact and joke around. Do some practice runs with a friend and, if you have confidence issues, learn how to fake it.

Tip: Common Interview Mistakes to Avoid

6. Know what you're worth

At some point during the interview process, the subject of money is bound to come up. Tread carefully to avoid shortchanging yourself. Research current salary ranges for the position you're interested in, and you’ll know whether the offer you get is fair or whether you need to make a counteroffer.

7. Learn to negotiate

Getting your first job is like buying a car. There will be some negotiations before the deal is made—not just salary, but title, flexible scheduling, and so on. To make sure you’ll be happy in the long run, be prepared to negotiate and consider your priorities and limitations ahead of time. And don’t feel bad about it: Some employers actually expect pushback. In a survey of hiring managers and HR professionals, half of them said they’re willing to negotiate salaries with new hires.

BUILDING YOUR NETWORK

In business, it's all about who you know, so build up your network as soon possible. College is the perfect place to start. The more people you're able to form relationships with, the greater the odds of meeting someone who can open the right doors. If your network is on the small side, here's what you need to do to super-size it.

8. Get connected online

Approximately 28% of adults are on LinkedIn, so join the club as you work on building up contacts. It will become a directory of people you’ve met in your professional life who can vouch for you, share tips in the field, and connect with people in their network. And it’s a handy way to keep track of all the people you come across in your career.

9. But don't shy away from meeting face-to-face

While social networking has expanded by leaps and bounds, 20-somethings shouldn't overlook the value of meeting people in-person. In a survey from Cisco, 75% of business leaders who responded said that face-to-face interactions are still vital for professional communications. In your 20s, you’re starting to build your reputation and you want to be memorable—meeting someone for coffee for an informational interview can be so much more effective and memorable than if you just called that person up.

10. Use all your resources

When you're working on building a network, you can't afford to leave any stone unturned. Reach out to former professors, stay in touch with your old bosses, and let everyone you know (including family members) about your career goals—you never know who may have connections that could help you get where you want to go.

Tip: How to Network Better

11. Keep business cards handy

Carrying business cards with you is a no-brainer and if you don't have one, it's time to get some printed up. Just like your resume, your business cards are a chance to express your personality, so get creative if it’s appropriate for your career and industry.

12. Fine-tune the follow-up

Going to networking events or spending a lot of time talking to people online is a waste of time if you're not making an effort to take those conversations to the next level. If someone gives you their card with an invitation to talk again or mentions that they might be hiring in the near future, you have an opening. Make a note to yourself to touch base with this person again.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

In today's world, a college degree by itself isn't always enough to guarantee success in the workplace. Acquiring specialized skills, taking the time to learn from others in your field, and looking for opportunities to expand your experience apart from what you're doing on the job can all work to your advantage in terms of your future career prospects.

13. Find a mentor

Learning doesn't end when college is over. Have a mentor working alongside you and you have help learning on the job. A mentor is someone who's already been through the obstacles that you're about to face and is willing to share what they've learned with you. Just be sure you're clear on what makes a good mentor before choosing someone for the role.

14. Develop a specialized skill

Having a particular skill or two under your belt sets you apart from the crowd and could make you more valuable in the eyes of employers. Knowing basic HTML, being a Photoshop expert, or having a knack for condensing bulky information into concise reports are all talents that can make you a standout on the job.

15. Consider an internship

Some internships don't pay, but if you're having a hard time finding a steady job, they may pay you back in the form of invaluable experience. Spending the summer after graduation as an intern at a company you'd like to work for, for example, could translate to a full-time position if you make the effort to bring your A-game every day.

16. Volunteer your time

Donating your time to a good cause can also be a stepping stone to a move up the career ladder. Time and again, research has linked volunteering with improved job prospects, so it's definitely worth considering if you can fit it into your schedule.

Tip: Why Volunteering is Good for You

17. Start a side hustle

Entrepreneurship is on the rise among 20-somethings. It's estimated that 1 in 3 Millennials is currently working a side hustle. As you’re looking to make the giant leap into the corporate world, see if you can squeeze in some time to take on a gig, like freelance writing or selling things online. See what being your own boss is like and whether you can hack it in the so-called freelance world. The experience may either make you really appreciate a full-time job (when you get it) or it could prompt you to revisit your professional dreams.

Related: 23 Signs You Might be an Entrepreneur

18. Work on your personal brand

Brands aren't just for big companies; your 20s are a prime time to be working on yours. When you’re searching for a job or gunning for a promotion with an employer, you are trying to sell others on your personal brand. It’s something that’s in constant development and starts now. Ideally, your brand should reflect your values and the kind of professional reputation you're trying to maintain.

ON THE JOB

You want to get in the habit of smart professional behavior while you’re young, so you can build up a track record of dependability but also “promote-ability.” Here’s what you should be doing while at work to help your career.

19. Cultivate the right relationships

Whether you work for a large corporation or a small business, it's important to take the time to get to know the people around you, particularly those in senior positions. Chatting up someone who's been with the company for years can give you some insight into what's expected of employees, and it may even give you a more competitive edge in the workplace. Always keep in mind that you may work with these people again in the future in another capacity.

Tip: How to be Popular at Work

20. Be clear on work etiquette

When you start a new job, you’re entering into a culture that was established long before you came along. The unsaid rules between employees are different at every company. Ask questions and get a feel for what kind of behavior is considered acceptable at your company. You don’t have to conform to every whim of your coworkers, but you do want to be known for being respectable and courteous. You want the higher-ups to judge you because of your job skills, and not because you’re the office gossip.

21. Take the initiative

Getting ahead at work is often about being in the right place at the right time, and you should keep your eyes open for chances to seize the moment. If there's a big project coming up that you'd love to participate in, for instance, don't be shy about asking for a spot on the team. Just be prepared to give your boss a quick rundown of why you'd be a good fit.

22. Turn mistakes into opportunities

Workplace mistakes, which are more common than you think, can cost companies billions of dollars each year. If you slip up somewhere, owning up to it is the best course of action. Your boss may not be happy that you made a mistake, but they'll definitely appreciate your maturity and your determination to make it right.

23. Be gracious

Getting passed over for a promotion or seeing a coworker win an award, whether or not you think they deserve it, can give rise to feelings of pettiness or jealousy. But don’t let the green-eyed monster take control. Showing simple gratitude can go a long way towards improving your standing in the eyes of your employer.

24. Know the next step

Job-hopping is the norm for Millennials; just 18% of young adults who are currently in the workforce expect to stay with their employer for the long-term. So don’t get complacent once you settle into your first job. Every so often, set goals for where you want your career to go and consider the steps you need to take to get there.

25. Plan exits carefully

When you do reach a point where you feel like you've outgrown your current position or you've been offered a plum deal with a different company, you want to make the transition as painless as possible. Give your boss proper notice and continue to do your job to the best of your ability, so you don’t burn any bridges on your way out.

Related: Many Employees Want a New Job

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