Whether just starting college or looking for the next step in your career ladder, those in their 20s have some big opportunities ahead. This is the decade when particularly major events happen, so make the most of it with these tips on reaching your career and financial goals.
1. Get relevant summer internships on your résumé
For college students, it’s time to think about your future and move your résumé from “kid” to professional. If you are interested in business, get retail, customer service, or office experience. Start looking in January (at least five months before your summer break) for the best summer jobs or internships.
2. Look for work at big companies, even for entry-level jobs
If you’ve already graduated from college, aim high. Yes, I know, startups are cool and there’s always the dream of making big money with the IPO. Those companies will always be there and you can start at a higher level in a startup after you have experience and credibility. Once you work for a company like GE, Nordstrom, Microsoft, or any other Fortune 500 corporation (note: stay at least two years), nobody can take that away from you. Your résumé will show that you were hired by a selective company, learned world-class processes, and teamed with other strong co-workers.
3. Move up or move out
If you have been in your current position for at least two years without a salary increase, then it’s time to make a move. Your first step is to have a career discussion with your manager. Too many young people just quit without sharing their career goals or asking for a promotion. If your manager’s response is, “It’s not going to happen,” or, “Wait another year,” then stay in the job and look for another while working.
4. Know what “underemployed” means
Before you jump to the conclusion that you are underemployed, do some research to find out what your peers are earning and the salaries for the next level up. A great tool is Glassdoor.com. It not only has a job board, but it’s also like Yelp for company reviews. Most importantly for you, it has salary information that can help you negotiate with your current manager, negotiate a future offer, or simply put your mind at ease that you are not underemployed.
5. Ask for more projects and be the best
Too many twenty-somethings just do the job they are asked to do and then jam out the door at the end of the day to enjoy their free time. Drive your career growth now and demonstrate you are a top performer, not an average one. Ask for more projects, work longer hours, offer to help others around you, read more about your industry and company so you are more informed, etc. Ask your manager who the top performers around you are, meet with them, and mimic their work ethic. Step it up.
6. Address your skill gaps
When you’re just starting out in the business world, you’ll have skill gaps. How are your written communications skills, public speaking skills, sales or analytic skills? If you’re not skilled in business communication, go out and fix it! Take courses on business writing, especially ones that focus on business letters. Learn how to proof your writing and, when you’re at work, ask someone to give you feedback before you press “send” on your emails.
7. Brush up on your job-search skills
Most twenty-somethings think they know how to job search. Unfortunately, they make all kinds of errors that sabotage their efforts. Just typing, “How to job search,” in Google or Bing is not enough! Put yourself on a step-by-step program that teaches you how to do it correctly, and accelerates your time to the right job. Get current with social media dos and don’ts, and become fluent in LinkedIn job searching.
8. Build a networking process
Unfortunately, most people (not just twenty-somethings) think they are networking, but they are really “using” people. That gives networking a bad rap. Join industry groups and find events by reading your local Business Journal, available in 43 cities nationwide. Share your career goals (be concise, please) with others and ask for their recommendations. Look for ways you can help them. Take notes and send thank you e-mails to everybody you’ve met. Then stay in touch.
9. Start contributing to a 401k immediately
Begin saving for retirement now, and take advantage of the compounding effect from the money you invest in your early 20s. Also, learn the basics of investing, including the differences between Roth IRAs, 401ks, etc. Use Mint.com (or any other service like it) to track how much you are spending in different categories. That way, if you need to cut back, you have a full analysis of your spending and earning habits.
10. Stick with low-cost mutual funds
As my son 27-year-old son Shane said, “When you’re young, you’re going to make stupid decisions and lose a lot of money. In the long run, you’ll end up paying more in fees.” There are a few people who are very successful at a very young age, but they do a lot of research.
When you’re a twenty-something, you’ll naturally make a few mistakes. But you’ll also be taking on new challenges, and meeting them head-on. So make the most of your opportunities!