Welcome to the big, brilliant (sometimes cluster f*ck) career mind field of your twenties.
Your twenties are a time for smashing in as much as you can, trying everything once (or let’s be honest… twice) and inadvertently laying the foundations for a career you could scream about.
Your 20s can also be confusing.
As you cross the 20-year-old threshold, you’re likely still in Uni, or perhaps working in your first full time gig, (or still trying to work it out), with your entire career in front of you, and by the end of your 20s, there’s a chance you’ll be settled into a career trajectory that will dictate your income potential and professional development until you’re able to retire.
Let me tell you something that I know for sure. You’re young, you’re free, and you can do pretty much anything you set your mind to — but at the same time, the decisions you make now could determine the rest of your professional life.
It’s super exciting, but it’s a ton of pressure.
If you want to maximize your potential income, meet the people that can help you get ahead, find out what it is you really want to do, and maintain your sanity doing it, these are the career moves you need to make in your 20s.
1. Continue with your education but realise that you don’t have to go into massive debt to do it.
Learning and keeping your skills fresh and relevant is a good thing. Adding more skills to your resume is also a strong tactic if your job hunt is taking longer than anticipated, but not all education needs to cost an arm and a leg.
Some jobs and industries require a Uni degree (like Law, Medicine, Engineering, etc). While other industries, like tech, styling, and even some marketing disciplines can be learnt by taking online courses, free trainings, night classes, or even a semester-long course through a place like General Assembly.
Whatever path you choose, as long as you’re learning new skills, you’re moving one step closer to your next dream job.
2. Build Your Network Now
Networking is a must for those just beginning their careers because, in case you haven’t discovered this by now, It’s all about who you know, not what you know. While traditional networking—think conferences and networking events still hold value, the easiest way to start is virtually, and while LinkedIn is the obvious starting place, don’t forget about Instagram and Tik Tok.
Authentic networking is what dreams are made of. Want to make a connection? Start commenting on their posts, share an article they wrote on LinkedIn and slowly make a name for yourself in their network. Be of service early on, and I guarantee that when the time comes, they would gladly help you get a foot in the door. But start now.
3. Start a Side Hustle or Project
Side hustles or projects are like gold for so many reasons. For one, they are a great way to hone or show off skills beyond your day-to-day job descriptions that you can highlight in a job application. And secondly, they are the perfect way to test the waters in an area that you get excited about but don’t have “qualifications” in.
Some examples are copywriting for a publication that you love, building your own website, or start your own business from scratch. In your early twenties, you often lack experience, and it’s hard to get without experience. Crazy right? Get around this by creating your own experience. By working on projects outside of your course or job, you are actually demonstrating abilities that wouldn’t otherwise be represented outside of your job description. This is guaranteed to open so many doors for you. Hello, promotion!
4. Get Clarity on Your Personal Brand
Personal branding has come a long way, it’s not all about colour schemes and being a know it all, a personal brand is ‘YOU’ up in lights. It’s a representation of all the ways that makes you unique and employable – so that people will remember you. Did you know that up to 75% of people will Google you before a job interview, 95% before offering you work – so you need be represented online.
Start by creating a LinkedIn account and knowing what you want and who you are, build credibility around it and deliver it online in a compelling way. Check out our girl @yemagz for a real-life example.
5. Don’t let your job define you
So you work at Macca’s while your best friend is an admin assistant at Mecca? Don’t stress. Just like your Year 12 score doesn’t define you, either does your job. Jobs in your twenties are all about getting experience, meeting new people, taking what you want and moving on. In my early twenties, I worked in a fruit shop for the sole purpose of making money so I could buy new shoes and go out on the weekend. Know what you are in it for and make moves when you are ready.
6. Start an Achievement File and Document Your Achievements Religiously
One of the most important things you can do early in your career is keep a log your achievements because there will be many. Start wherever you are in your journey. I have a folder on my desktop and another list in my notes on my phone. Examples could be a “Good Job” email from your boss, an example where you have helped the business achieve something huge, or a time where you solved a problem.
Bonus points if you can demonstrate the achievement with numbers. And trust me, your boss is going to love you come appraisal time if you track your own achievements as it demonstrates that you are truly invested in your own development and contribution to the company.
7. Always Ask for a Recommendation or Testimonial
Completed work experience? Ask for a referral letter. Received awesome feedback from a project you completed at Uni? Ask for a referral. The more evidence you collate at every stage of your career the better.
8. Challenge your Comfort Zone
Learning new systems, reading articles about new business philosophies work, or having lunch with employees from different departments will help broaden your horizons and put you at ease when your comfort zone is forced to widen. (because believe me… it will constantly).
To grow in your field, meet new people and be exposed to all aspects of the industry, it’s important to make yourself, well, a little uncomfortable. If you adopt an agile working habit early on in your career and understand that all industries are evolving, it will become a habit and make you memorable as well as employable. WIN! WIN!
9. Never lie or exaggerate on your resume
You might think you can get away with a little embellishment here and there, but more often than not, someone is going to catch onto it. I found this out the hard way in my early twenties when I was hired to manage a team in an industry that I had no experience in but could relate to.
Let me explain. I have always been a good talker; I can think fast on my feet and through my empathetic nature can easily work out what it is that a manager or potential boss needs to hear. Through my contacts, I was put forward for a job in a media agency at 23 and it was a no brainer to convince the director that I could do the job, grow the business and manage a small team. I didn’t lie in my application or interview, but I didn’t understand the role, and obviously convinced him that I did when I was hired on the spot.
I spent the next 2 years in hell, learning how to navigate a new industry, without mentorship, without a direct report, managing an employee and trying to grow the business. It wasn’t a surprise to me when I was made redundant. Be honest.
10. Take Risks
Please take the risky road. When you’re young, you can afford to take risks because you have plenty of time and energy to get back on your feet if things don’t work out. In those cases, you’ll be wiser than before. If they do work out, you’ll be more successful than before, so it’s a win-win situation. Looking back now, I wish that I had taken more risks. I wish that I had taken the risk, learned from it and moved on quickly. I’m a dedicated, loyal employee, but I can get bogged down. If you’re thinking of changing jobs, switching careers, or even moving to a new state for work, go for it! If there’s a chance that doing something will bring you closer to your goals, that’s a good risk to take at this time in your life.
11. Don’t be afraid to apply for a job you like, even if you don’t meet all of the requirements.
This is a piece of advice that I did take in my 20s, but it’s so important that I had to list it here. Don’t ever be afraid. There is a reason why you are drawn to a particular job and, or career. Follow your gut, follow that reason and don’t be afraid. What is the worst that can happen if you are turned down? You work harder next time to make it happen.
12. Make a career vision board
Don’t look at this point and ignore it. Seriously! If you want to know the one thing that will propel you through any stage of your career it’s this… Understand that what you want to do exists and that it is available to you. The best way to do this is to get super clear on what your vision looks like and look at it every day.
13. Buy Your Name Domain…
I love this tip. Right now, go to a site like godaddy.com.au and check if yourname.com is available for purchase. If so, grab it. If it’s not available, choose something close, like including your middle initial. Creating a site for yourself is a great first step in developing your personal brand, and choosing your domain as your name is the smartest move. Who knows, you may need this later on in life. Go and grab it now.
14. Reach out to people you admire, just because.
Think of all the hours you spend on Instagram each day, think of how many people influence you, or how many pieces of content inspire you. Why not reach out and thank those people? Reaching out is the 2022 version of networking. Don’t just be a spectator, get involved in the conversation, and have an opinion. Don’t worry if you don’t get a response, it’s not about that right now. Networking is a compounding activity; it will pay off.
15. You can always change careers. ALWAYS!
Please don’t let anyone tell you differently. I was one of those lucky people that always knew that I wanted to work in Marketing, but even then I had no idea just how vast “Marketing” was. I made the mistake of overthinking my career at first. I thought I would be interested in something for my entire life, but it turned out that helping people was my calling.
The good thing about being in your 20s is that you have plenty of life ahead of you and can afford to make a pivot whenever you bloody hell want to. Even if you don’t know what direction you want to go in, It’s better to start working now and change careers later than sitting around in career paralysis thinking that the dream job is going to land in your lap.
16. Explore and work overseas or in another state.
If you can, and have the means to, go explore. With the world opening again work experience in another country is back on the cards. There are so many advantages of working overseas in your 20s plus there are working holiday visa’s for under 30s in most countries.
Now in my thirties, I quite often wish that I had travelled more and worked overseas. Not only does being exposed to different cultures, work ethics, and values really change your perspective on life and your career, but global work experience looks incredible on your resume.
17. Build your LinkedIn Profile and keep it updated.
If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile stop reading and start one now. But seriously, you need one for so many reasons. There isn’t enough room to talk about the benefits here but trust me, go on and get started.
18. If it’s not right, Quit.
I get how tough it can be when you’re stuck in a job you don’t like. Regardless of what most career advisors say I think your twenties are the time to move quickly and understand that it will all work out (because it does).
Like most challenges in life, it helps to consider what you can and can’t control about your current job situation. Write down the exact things you can control and things you can’t control. You might be able to do things like ask your boss for help or make the most of your downtime – but if you truly know that your place of employment isn’t for you. Move on.
Tip: Do not to check out of your current job before you resign. (You never know, your current boss might be besties with the HR manager at your dream company.) Keep showing up on time, double-checking your emails for typos—just do good work. Then, outside of the office, warm your relationships with your current contacts and attend networking events to maximize the possibility of new opportunities.
19. Be a yes person until it’s time to be a no!
This is a big one I wish I understood in my 20s. Starting out you are often encouraged to get work experience, work for nothing, find an internship, and be a ‘yes’ person. To an extent, I agree. In order to get a foot in the door, an internship is a wicked idea, and sometimes that means working for nothing, but you need to be self-aware.
Unfortunately, some businesses take advantage of people starting out. Set boundaries and don’t be afraid to ask for payment or say no, when you realise that you are being used.
20. It’s ok not to have all the answers.
It’s ok not to have all the answers on day one. In fact, any reasonable workplace will expect you to make mistakes. I believe it can take 3 months to get into the groove of a new workplace. Learning by experience can be great as long as you approach your work with a growth mindset. That is, see each experience as an opportunity to learn rather than punishing yourself for not getting it right every time.
What do you think of our 20 Career Commandments?
Tell us which one you like the best or will be implementing ASAP in the comments below and if you need a little more help, download our FREE GOAL Planner to help you nail your career in your 20s.