Last month, I turned 25. Since becoming gainfully employed, I’ve made a lot of professional mistakes—and learned a few things, along the way. Here are 25 of them—let me know if you agree, or what you would add to this list!
By 25, you should know how to:
1. Take rejection with poise.
By the age of 25, you should’ve had to face some sort of professional rejection—my favorite was having my resume handed back to me after a job interview.
2. Do your own bitch work.
Empathy is an important trait for all managers. Knowing what it’s like to do the grunt work makes you appreciate those who have to do it after you. Assuming that you are not above anything will help you soar in your career.
3. Craft an appropriate LinkedIn connection invite request.
I don’t mind getting LinkedIn connection requests from random people, but it irritates me when they don’t have a tailored message and just use the standard LinkedIn invite line. Here’s an idea of something that could work: “Hi Jenny, I noticed we both work in the Chicago marketing scene and wanted to connect with you. Maybe I buy you a cup of coffee/tea in the near future, to learn more about what you do?”
4. Ask for a raise.
When you’re worth more than you’re making, you need to know how to ask for more. After being out of school for three years, learn how to broach the topic. Not sure how to do that? Read this.
5. Delegate work.
Delegation is an underrated action. By 25, you should know when it’s appropriate to delegate and how to do it. For example, if someone asks me to perform a task that is certainly within my power, but I don’t have the time for it, I look for the colleague it makes most sense to perform that task regularly, and ask them to do it.
6. Know which battles to pick at work.
Not every battle is worth fighting – you should know which are worth your time and energy. Getting upset with the way someone sends incessant emails takes a backseat to someone who fails to communicate important pieces of information.
7. When to unplug.
Once you answer that work email at 11 p.m., you set a precedent that you’re available 24/7. Unless it’s an emergency, try not to check your work email (or mark it unread and deal with it when you get to the office).
8. Put in your 2 weeks’ notice.
If you’re lucky enough to have loved your first job out of college and are still there by 25, bravo! But you should know how to tactfully put in your two weeks’ notice, if you make a career move. This requires a written resignation. Here’s a great guide on doing the dirty deed.
9. Tactfully give your business card at a networking event.
No one likes the business card ninja who swoops in, throws his or her card at you and leaves you stunned. First, have a conversation with someone. Find out stuff you have in common. And then, offer your card, as a way to stay in touch.
10. Not get sloppy at a networking event.
An open bar doesn’t give you permission to act like you did at college frat parties. Have a few drinks to loosen up, but keep it professional.
11. Prioritize your time.
For example, tackle your bigger work issues toward the beginning of the day and save your smaller, less important tasks for the end of the day when you’re winding down. Remember: there’s always tomorrow.
12. Set professional goals.
You want accomplishments on your resume, not just finished tasks. Setting yearly professional goals will set you on track to advance your career. Meeting mentors in your industry through networking events and LinkedIn will help you realize what goals you need to prioritize.
13. Send an SOS.
Chances are you’ve felt overwhelmed by your work load, at least once in your career. Knowing when and how to send a help signal to your manager and or co-workers is essential to preventing burnout!
14. Conduct an interview.
Knowing how to interview someone is an important skill. Not only does it teach you how to ask the right questions, it teaches you what skillset and personality you value in yourself and your potential co-workers.
Communication, when done well, sets you apart from other young professionals. Good communication is a strong asset, so learn it while you’re in the beginning stages of your career. For example, when emailing out project specs, I copy as many people as I think will benefit from the discussion. Looping someone in during the later stages of development could mean painful—and unnecessary—back-peddling.
16. Handle being caught venting about co-workers.
It happens to the best of us. Your co-worker commits a major faux-pas, and you need to vent about it to another co-worker. You get caught. Knowing how to turn it into a dialogue with constructive criticism—or knowing how to avoid it all together—is very important.
17. Not sweat the small stuff (you’re not curing cancer!)
Unless, of course, you are curing cancer. Then disregard. Ask yourself, “Will this matter a year from now?” If not, don’t sweat it. Acknowledge your mistake and learn from it.
18. 401(k) – you should at least be thinking about it
The numbers don’t lie – someone who starts saving before the age of 25 accrues more with interest than someone who starts saving at 30.Not sure how much to invest? This is a great guide.
19. Be a team player.
No one likes a selfish co-worker. Learn this healthy habit early in your career to get ahead of those who didn’t. You can operate under the “CYA” (cover your ass) mentality, just make sure it doesn’t turn into a “TUB” (throw under the bus) one.
20. Talk to the CEO of your company.
Get sweaty palms talking to authority figures? Nix those nerves now!
21. Lead a meeting.
You’ll need to learn how eventually, why not get it out of the way pre-25? Have a meeting agenda and make sure you open up for discussion as much as you can, so you’re not the only one talking. Also, you can take it one step further by following up with action items and decisions made during the meeting.
22. Ask for time off without feeling guilty.
You earn your time off, so it’s important to take it with a clean conscience. If you’re planning on having a “TREAT YO SELF” day, you could look into local brewery tours, daytime trapeze classes, or some simple retail therapy.
23. Put together a visual report.
Putting information into a strong visual report speaks volumes more than just throwing the numbers onto a spreadsheet and clicking send. About 60 percent of people are visual learners, so it’s important to make your information pop with charts and graphs.
24. Give your elevator pitch.
Since I work for a small company, the question I get asked the most is, “What’s Ragan?” It took some practice, but I finally got my company’s elevator pitch down a few months after joining the team. Not sure what yours is? Listen to what your co-workers say.
25. Be a mentor.
By the time you’re three years out of college, you will have had at least one younger person ask you for various career advice. Understanding the impact you have as a mentor is powerful, and the relationships you have with mentees can be some of the most rewarding ones you’ll have in your mid-20s.