Your twenties are some of your most formative years. It’s when you transition from student to professional, it’s when you define the career path you’d like to take, and it’s when you learn and adopt valuable habits that will shape the way you advance in the workforce.
As I close in on the end of my twenties and reflect on what I have learned throughout my own career thus far, I realize that there are several professional habits I wish were engrained in me from the start.
Creating good professional habits early on in your career will help you achieve your goals and advance yourself faster.
Here are 10 professional habits to master in your 20s:
1. END YOUR WORKDAY WHEN THE JOB IS DONE
My brother recently told me a story about his not-quite-20-year-old peers at his internship. They couldn’t understand why he stays at work later than he must. “You came in at 7:20 AM, so you can leave at 4:20 PM… why are you staying until 6 PM?”
Did you catch that? You can leave.
Working with the 9-to-5 mentality is a fast track way to stay in the same place in your career, and unfortunately, this naïve attitude is carried on and maintained throughout adult life all too often. If you find yourself shutting down for the day with one foot out the door at 4:59 PM on a regular basis, you may need to reevaluate your career mindset.
Not only is it an extremely inefficient to stop working the moment the clock allows it, but it’s a noticeable behavior that your boss won’t take kindly to. Especially if it is reflected in your work.
When it comes time to have your annual review and you want to negotiate a higher salary, you won’t be able to say you have put in the time, because the time you’ve put in is the bare minimum for the job you have.
If you have to stay at work a little later to complete your task, or to get yourself to a good stopping point, do it. Not only will it help you advance your career, but you will also be setting yourself up for a more productive morning.
2. PRIORITIZE YOUR TASKS, STARTING WITH THE HARDEST
Working on your most challenging tasks in the morning will make for a much more successful day than you’d have if you worked backwards.
There are few things more satisfying than crossing big tasks off your to-do list. You’ve achieved a goal and it’ll get easier and easier from here!
Make a to-do list in order of priority considering the following:
- When is this due?
- How long should this take me?
- What are the most challenging aspects of this task?
- Does this require input or variables involving another person, ultimately extending the time this task should take?
There truly is something to be said for prioritization, particularly when you work with deadlines and have a variety of responsibilities.
3. DON’T KNOW? STUCK? ASK QUESTIONS!
There is NOTHING wrong with asking questions or for help when you hit a roadblock.
In fact, most managers prefer that their employees ask for clarification rather than make an assumption and end up being wrong. While you may face some semblance of irritation from the receiving party, it’s better than the frustration you could face if you make a mistake.
If something is unclear, if you didn’t hear something, or if you simply don’t know how to do something, ask. This is applicable when you are training for your role and when you are many months and years in.
4. UPDATE YOUR RESUME REGULARLY
As the years go on, your skills and scope of work will change. You will improve upon your existing skills, you will learn new things (like software), your responsibilities will fluctuate, and your career objectives will likely evolve.
As these changes happen, keep your resume up to date. Even when you aren’t searching for a new job.
When it comes time to look around, you won’t have to spend as much time editing, nor will you have the stress of trying to remember every important bit to include.
5. MAINTAIN A ‘CAN DO’ ATTITUDE
Confidence can make or break your career.
It is utterly evident when someone doubts their abilities. If you doubt yourself, your coworkers and boss may as well. And why should they trust you to handle something if you output the same sentiment?
Doubting yourself can be debilitating. A positive mindset means everything. Tell yourself you CAN do it, and if you make a mistake or have to teach yourself a thing or two along the way, that’s OK! There is no such thing as knowing everything from the start, and trust me, you will be learning for years to come.
6. SPEAK UP – DON’T BE AFRAID TO SHARE YOUR OPINION
You may be low on the totem pole, but no one rose in the ranks by not speaking up.
Nobody puts baby in the corner!
If you have something of value to contribute to a conversation, whether you and your team are trying to solve a problem or you have a recommendation that could improve some aspect of the business, share it!
Your employer won’t know what you’ve got unless you show them.
7. SCALE DOWN ON THE SOCIAL MEDIA AND SCALE-UP YOUR LINKEDIN
If you’re out of college and don’t have a LinkedIn profile, get one! It’s time to give your social media accounts a serious audit, and really think about what you should and shouldn’t share moving forward.
Social media is fun, but it’s all too easy for hiring managers to look up potential employees and dig deep into their personal life to see the kind of person they are.
Hide those pictures of you shot-gunning a beer at your college tailgate, filter out the inappropriate posts, and focus on your professional profile.
Many employers use LinkedIn to find and field candidates for open positions, so you should make a pointed effort to keep your profile as up to date as your resume and be active!
8. TAKE RISKS… YOU’RE YOUNG
Your 20s are the best time to do things that make you feel uncomfortable; to do things that make you think twice, that make you wonder if you’re making the best decision for you and your career, to move around until you find something that you love, and to take giant leaps of faith.
I know I did, and I don’t regret a single decision I made because each and every one brought me to where I am today.
Your 20s are for speaking up, for asking for what you deserve, for being rejected, and for being rewarded.
Let’s say you’re considering a career change but are concerned that if you leave your stable position for a riskier one, you could end up making a huge mistake. My question is, how will you know unless you try?
Take risks… if there was ever a better time to, it’s now.
9. LEARN HOW TO NEGOTIATE
Because no one is going to do it for you.
One of the things I have always struggled with as a freelancer is billing. How do get paid what you're worth? How do you sift through the low-ball offers and find a client that is willing to pay you something fair?
The same goes for any other type of professional career. How do you convince your boss that you deserve a raise?
These are huge questions that play a major role in the longevity of your career at any company. While a certain percent raise may be a typical perk at a job, it's not always guaranteed. Employees often face the question of “will I or won't I?”
One of the most important career strategies you will learn in your twenties… and continue to learn in your thirties… is how to negotiate.
Few employers will go to bat for you. You have to learn to go to bat for yourself.
10. LEAVE ON GOOD TERMS
Career change is inevitable, so when it’s time to find a new job, ALWAYS part on good terms.
This doesn’t just apply to the niceties, but also the condition of your position for whomever will replace you.
After giving your notice, get your desk organized, so to speak.
While it may be tempting to simply coast until your last day, take the time to complete the tasks on your to-do list and make it easy for your replacement to onboard. Leave no questions open and if possible, no priority items incomplete.
You want to maintain the relationships you have developed during your time in this position, and much of that has to do with the terms on which you leave. You never know when you’re going to need to utilize your resources. Parting on poor terms may very well eliminate the option to reach out when you need a reference, access to a connection, or even an “in” if ever you want to work at the same company again.
As you grow into the best version of your professional self, keep these career habits in mind to further your growth!