Many new graduates think they need just one thing once they leave college: a job. But in truth, your 20s are the time to jump start a career.
Create a solid base by honing your professional skill set, says Courtney Templin, president at learning and development firm JB Training Solutions and co-author of Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management.
“In the first stage of your career, you’re building a broad base of skills,” Templin says. “Soft skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills — the quicker you develop these, the faster you’ll be able to climb the ladder.“
Take these seven steps to shine as a junior-level employee — and position yourself for bigger moves later on.
1. Set Clear Goals Up Front
When you start a job, meet with your manager to set goals for the first 90 days, advises Priscilla Claman, president at Boston-based Career Strategies. “The list should include people to meet, core competencies to learn, and what work you need to complete,” Claman says. Then set out to exceed your boss’ expectations — a surefire way to prove yourself as a rising star.
Keep detailed notes of your achievements so that you have specifics to report when you meet with the boss again. (Most managers are open to meeting quarterly, suggests Templin.) At that point, solicit detailed feedback to show you’re eager to learn. Ask, “What are two things you think I did well and two things I can improve upon?” Once you’ve established credibility, you’ll be better placed to ask to take on more responsibilities.
2. Learn Your Clients
If you work directly with customers, communication skills are crucial as you get to know their needs and their challenges. When you meet with clients, focus on learning what they want out of your relationship. Set expectations: Let them know you’ll be checking in throughout a project, and ask how frequently they’d like updates and whether they prefer phone or email.
“If you wait until the end of the project to ask for feedback, it might be too late to make the client happy,” says Claman.
3. Build Internal Relationships
Learn how the whole company operates by getting to know employees in other departments. Show genuine interest in what they do; you can take them to lunch or happy hour and ask questions.
Fostering these relationships can increase your exposure as well as improve your work performance, says Templin.
4. Seek Out Advisors
Identify co-workers who offer different expertise, says Barbara Safani, a career strategist in New York. Doing so will help you expand your network and develop a range of new skills.
Be wary of limiting yourself to one mentor: If that person leaves the company, you’re on your own. “Don’t hitch your wagon to one person,” warns Claman.
Not everyone in your sphere needs to be higher in the organization, Claman points out. An in-house recruiter, for instance, may have good intel on what parts of the business are adding resources.
5. Be a Joiner
“Many people don’t join industry groups until later in their career, and that’s a missed opportunity,” says Templin. Professional organizations offer not only education but also unique networking opportunities.
Eyeing a prospective employer? Introduce yourself to one of the company’s recruiters or influencers at an industry conference. Get a list of attendees ahead of time, says Safani, and do your homework on anyone you’re meeting by reading LinkedIn profiles.
6. Keep Studying
Relevant certifications are nice badges to have on your resume; one-third of employers report difficulties filling job vacancies, often due to lack of hard skills and industry-specific certifications, a recent ManpowerGroup survey found.
But you can also seek additional training to broaden your skill set — for instance, taking a PowerPoint class to improve your presentation skills. Websites such as Udemy and Coursera offer free and low-cost courses in a variety of subjects.
Check with your manager before enrolling — not only might your employer pay for it (some organizations budget for third-party education), but your boss might also want to suggest what skills you should be developing.
7. Build a Professional Social Presence
Nine in 10 recruiters surveyed by software firm Jobvite say they find talent using social networks. While LinkedIn is their primary platform, nearly half use Twitter to locate (and vet) job candidates.
If you don’t have one already, set up a Twitter profile and begin using it for professional networking. Find influencers in your field, and share industry news and other valuable content on a daily basis.
Because it’s a social network, you can infuse a bit of personality into your tweets — highlight interesting angles or quotes from news stories, for instance, rather than just tweeting the headline — but keep it modest. Send those funny cat videos to friends via email, not Twitter.