Even if you already have a few years of work experience under your belt, when you’re in your twenties you’re still relatively young in the working world.
In fact, something like, “Oh, you’re still so young. You have your whole career ahead of you!” is repeated by seemingly everyone—including your parents, older coworkers, and even the accountant who does your taxes for you.
It’s meant to be an encouraging sentiment. But, here’s the thing: You’re proactive—which means you don’t want to assume you have endless years to take steps forward and get it all figured out.
No, that doesn’t mean you’re all about instant gratification and are unwilling to pay your dues—you’re more than happy to climb the ladder. You just want to make sure you’re doing the right things now to actually get yourself on the first rung and started on an upward climb.
So, what can you do right now in your twenties to set yourself up for major career success later? Here are seven key things you should get moving on.
1. Set goals, but stay flexible.
There’s nothing quite like setting goals to keep you focused on the bigger picture, which is especially important when you’re getting started in your profession. It’s helpful to have some major, overarching ambitions in mind.
Ask yourself: What’s the endgame? Do you hope to eventually be an executive for a major corporation? Do you want to gain experience and then open your own business? Do you want to continue your education?
Set your sights on something now so you can start taking small steps in the right direction.
Set your sights on something now so you can start taking small steps in the right direction. But, also remember this: Life has a habit of getting in the way, which means your plans might need to change from time to time. So, by all means, set your goals—but, at the same time, recognize that life requires a certain degree of flexibility.
2. Identify your passion.
Perhaps you started your full-time job and realized you weren’t exactly cut out for that career field after all. Or, maybe you enjoy what you do—but you found something else you enjoy even more.
Fortunately, your twenties are the perfect time for career exploration. While it can feel counterintuitive (and even guilt-inducing) to do so after you’ve invested time, energy, and even finances into pursuing a specific job, there’s really no better time to try something new than right now. Think about it this way: If you wait until even later in your career, you’ll have invested even more time and energy.
So, if you have a sneaking suspicion that you’d like to try something new, don’t hesitate to put yourself out there by job shadowing, setting up informational interviews, volunteering, or even taking a class.
Your older co-workers are right—you still have your whole career ahead of you. But, that doesn’t mean you need to spend it doing the exact same thing.
3. Grow your network.
No matter what your chosen field, your network will pay dividends throughout your career. So, it’s best if you can start growing it as early as possible.
Your network will pay dividends throughout your career.
Head out and shake some hands at formal networking events, conferences, or industry get-togethers. Send out personalized LinkedIn invitations to people you’re hoping to form a relationship with. And, remember to find unique and friendly ways to stay in touch with all of the people who are already a part of your network.
I’ll spare you the cliché “it’s not always what you know, but who you know” advice. But, really, building a solid web of professional contacts that you can rely on will never be a bad thing.
4. Build your brand.
While you’re channeling energy into building your network, you should also be working on building and refining your personal brand.
When people think about you as a professional, what do you want to come to mind? Figure that out and then begin putting yourself out there to build a positive brand and reputation for yourself.
Whether that means speaking at events, authoring guest posts on industry-specific sites, being more active on social media, joining associations, boards, and committees, or volunteering for a worthy cause (or all of the above!), putting in the elbow grease to build a solid brand will help elevate you as a professional.
One other thing to do while you’re at it? Check if your domain name (www.yourname.com) is already taken. And if it’s not, claim it right away. Even if you have no desire for a personal website right now, you’ll be glad you have it later.
5. Soak up knowledge.
In the grand scheme of things, you’re really only getting started. You still have a lot you can learn about your specific field and the working world in general.
Your twenties are the perfect time to be a sponge and absorb as much information as you can. Find a mentor that you trust and can learn from. Ask questions. Do research and reading on your own time. Listen closely to feedback and constructive criticism so that you can use that input to continuously improve.
It can be tempting to coast every now and then. But, if you truly want to position yourself for success, keep your eye on your goals and never stop learning.
6. Keep accurate records.
When you sit down to update your resume a year or two from now, what are the chances you’re going to remember the stats for a website you built, the percentage by which you grew sales at your company, or exactly how many people came to that major corporate event you planned? Probably slim to none.
This is one of the many reasons it’s important that you maintain records throughout your career—particularly when you’re just beginning.
By keeping adequate track of all of the major things you achieve in various jobs, you’ll have a much easier time polishing your resume, beefing up your LinkedIn profile, and ultimately building your professional brand (remember that?).
So, yes, it can be a hassle in the moment. But, establish some sort of system (even if it’s just a simple Google doc!) to keep a running list of everything you accomplish. Trust me—you’ll be happy you did.
7. Take risks.
Taking risks can be terrifying at any point in your career—especially when you’re just establishing yourself and are convinced that one wrong move will send your entire house of cards toppling over.
But, ultimately, taking risks is important. It’s a big part of how you learn and grow. And, as your older colleagues will be all too happy to remind you, there’s really no better time to do it than when you’re young.
Taking risks is a big part of how you learn and grow as a professional.
So, don’t get too comfortable and become content with coasting. Continuously take small steps outside of your bubble, and you’re sure to become a well-rounded and self-assured professional.
Your twenties is an exciting time of your career, and it’s also the perfect chance for you to begin making moves that will set you up for success later down the line. Start with these seven, and you’ll rest easy with the knowledge that—even if setbacks pop up every now and then—you’re still taking steps in the right direction.