Making the transition from adolescence to adulthood has never been easy, but now it's arguably harder than ever. Where previous generations could count on a pre-set plan of forging a lifelong relationship with a single employer, you're much more likely to chart your own career path in today's less stable and highly competitive economy.
Developing professional skills — hard skills and soft skills — is critical as you step into the professional working world and learning how to make a resume that clearly conveys your experience is a practiced and necessary art. Here are 11 life hacks to master your professional 20s.
1. Sell Yourself on Paper With Resume Skills
In your 20s, writing entry-level resumes can be difficult, because you don't have a lengthy work history to demonstrate competence. Instead, you need to sell yourself by focusing on your ability to be a quick-learning, quick-achieving young professional. Use an online resume builder like Resume-Now to browse resume examples, and learn how to make a resume with templates.
2. Learn to Compose Formal Emails
After a lifetime of texting, using social media and writing high school research papers, you may realize you have no idea how to write in a professional adult context. Learning to draft a formal email should be your top priority as you build your professional skill set, since it's the primary way you'll communicate with many colleagues and other contacts in your field.
While younger colleagues may not care, older workers and supervisors are likely to find it insulting if you send casual, informal emails, so it's always best to err on the side of formality. Always use formal, courteous greetings and sign-offs, and write clear, complete paragraphs with proper grammatical structure.
3. Be Confident, Not Arrogant
Navigating playground social dynamics in childhood results in the struggle to project confident competence in the working world without feeling arrogant. However, learning to speak confidently is a crucial part of gaining respect and admiration in the workplace.
Instead of worrying about every social interaction, simply focus on expanding your professional skills. Learn to speak with older colleagues and gain emotional intelligence about yourself.
4. Speak in Public (And Relax a Little)
If you somehow evaded public speaking up to this point, now's the time to reverse the course. Whether you're giving a presentation to two hundred people or two, be prepared to speak in front of others.
Rather than feeling anxious or afraid, simply focus on the professional skills of a good public speaker. Practice clear enunciation, rigorous editing of your words and a confident, relaxed manner that encourages people to listen to you.
5. Master The Handshake
While older professionals are likely to put more emphasis on a handshake than your peers, it's still an important part of meeting someone in the context of work. For most, the ideal professional handshake is brief, friendly and firm without being aggressive.
6. Discover the Art of Networking
Today's young professionals are familiar with the concept of networking thanks to social media, but you may not have put much thought into using it as a tool for planning your career path.
Whether you're attending industry-related networking events or simply collecting an informal array of work contacts, building a professional web is vital to your career. Studies consistently show most jobs are found through networking in every industry, so think of it as expanding your options for the future.
7. Negotiate Your Salary
Salary negotiation is one of the most important skills to learn early on, because salary in your 20s sets the baseline for future pay raises throughout your career. Don't worry about hurting your chances of landing a job or promotion, since most hiring managers say they've never rejected a candidate for negotiating salary and view it as a sign of confidence instead.
Research comparable salaries in your field or area of expertise, objectively evaluate your skill set, then add a bit more on the top to leave room for negotiating down.
8. Be Punctual
While being five minutes late to your salaried desk job may not impact work performance, it can leave a poor impression on managing supervisors and is certain to look bad when meeting someone for a scheduled appointment.
If you're habitually late, take steps to keep yourself on-time. Otherwise, simply tell yourself to show up 5-10 minutes early for everything, and then learn to make a habit of it.
9. Practice Time Management
Professional time management isn't just about showing up when you're supposed to. It's about using time well once you're there. If you feel like you're perpetually struggling to meet deadlines or complete daily tasks, try a new approach.
Spend a few weeks paying close attention to how much time it takes you to complete your work, then implement new time management skills to prioritize, delegate and time-block your responsibilities.
10. Ask for Advice
"I don't know" can seem like the last words to say when you feel under-qualified or inexperienced, but they're also the best way to gain new knowledge.
Finding the balance between asking for help and figuring it out yourself can be difficult, but it's important to help build relationships with your colleagues while ensuring you won't need to ask again in the future.
11. Don't be Afraid to Say "No"
Be friendly and accommodating in the workplace, but not so much it encourages colleagues to take advantage of you. If you're unable to take on additional work, learn how to say so. And if you can't say no, try saying not now. It's okay to set the boundaries of your own schedule.