Career

3 Tips for 20-somethings on the Cusp of a Promising Career

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Joanne Poh

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Just before starting at my first full-time job, and having heard horror stories of friends who were subjected to 16-hour work days, I naïvely told myself that so long as I could leave the office by 10pm (yes, low standards) every night, all would be well and I would be satisfied with my job.

Obviously, I now know that that should (hopefully) be the least of your worries as a fresh-faced hire. That’s cos there’s a whole bunch of things you should be worrying about more at the beginning of your career, such as the following:

 

Never stop developing your strengths and interests

When you first join the workforce, it can be jarring to discover that you’re most definitely going to suck at some tasks more than at others. Working life isn’t like school, where all you need to do is pass exams.

You might be great at interacting with clients, but not so good at making sure your paperwork is accurate. You may shine during brainstorming sessions and team efforts, but feel snowed under when faced with report or proposal drafting.

That’s normal. The important thing, especially at this early stage of your career, is that you try to build awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and use this knowledge to your advantage.

Juliana, a 33-year-old marketing manager, began her career in PR, later moving on to corporate communications and finally ending up in marketing.

“I realised that I was great at brainstorming for and executing events and campaigns, but found the relationship-driven nature of PR draining. So over time I naturally gravitated towards marketing”, she says. “But it took a bit of soul searching on my part before I could bring myself to leave PR agency life.”

 

Beware of office politics

Office politics can be every bit as damaging as it sounds, even in the most innocuous of companies. So always be careful of what you say and to whom you say it.

You might be the sweetest person, most well-meaning person in the world, but a slip of the tongue can turn colleagues and possibly your boss against you.

Hilda, a 30-year-old lawyer, learnt that the hard way. As a trainee lawyer, she got on the bad side of her boss’s secretary.

“I politely asked her to make some copies for me and apparently she was offended that I would dare to give her orders as a lowly trainee. She would then complain about me to our boss, and since she had been working for him for 20 years, that did not bode well for me.”

As a general rule, be careful when sharing personal information about yourself at work, especially when you don’t know your colleagues well, and avoid making negative comments about others.

 

Make every effort to learn from your seniors

Most jobs aren’t rocket science. You probably don’t need the brain of Einstein to do your work well—but what really helps is experience. But nobody wants to go through two years of screwing up before finally learning the ropes.

That’s where your seniors come in. More experienced employees at your office have a wealth of experience that can be very, very useful for you.

They know much better than you do the most efficient way to get things done, what the clients/boss are really looking for, and what the next steps in your career will be. If you find a senior you can trust and who can mentor you, you’re at a huge advantage.

Geraldine, a 33-year-old vice president at a bank, credits her relationship with an older industry friend with helping her progress faster at work.

“I got my first banking job from a VP who pulled me into her company and subsequently acted as my boss and mentor. It did give me an advantage. I understood much more quickly than my peers how to deal with clients, how to push yourself for promotions and so on,” she says.

“I got promoted much faster than my peers who joined at the same time. I like to think it was because of my hard work, but I can’t deny that learning how to conduct myself and build relationships at the bank also played a part.”

So don’t make the mistake of always sticking with the other fresh hires in your “batch”, and make the effort to start connecting with and learning from those who’ve been in the game longer.

What are the most confusing or intimidating challenges facing 20-something employees? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.