Life As I Know It

My Top Five Pieces of Career Advice For Your Twenties

When entering college, I received the following advice:

Use your Freshman year to join every possible organization you might be interested in. Then commit to only a few for the rest of college. That way, you can hold leadership positions by junior/senior year and have something for your resume.

Awesome, awesome, awesome advice, which served me very well. And now as I’m in my 29th year, nearing 30, I’m starting to reflect on the professional advice and lessons I’ve learned so far. And I’m realizing this:

Your twenties are the “freshman year” of your career. Do what you need to do to figure out which direction you want to go in. 

I say this because I’ve just accepted a job offer – what will be my 5th job since graduating college. I know it sounds like a lot of jobs in 5 1/2 years, but it makes total sense when you look at my resume. Promise. My whole career has been in Higher Education Development (aka fundraising for universities), but I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated, so the first job I landed in was a little luck, and a little fate. Now, I love the field. To sum it up quickly for you:

Institution number one:

  • 1 year and 5 months as an Administrative Assistant
  • 1 year and 9 months as a Program Coordinator
  • 1 year and 9 months as an Associate Director

Institution number two:

  • 1 year and 7 months as an Associate Director
  • About to embark on a new position as an actual DIRECTOR, which means I will be a boss for the first time as I work to build a program from the ground up. Very excited about this opportunity!!

As you can see, a slow but steady climb, NOT jumping institutions, but working my way up at one place, allowing me to learn a lot about my field. And along the way, I have also learned a lot about professionalism, bosses, strategy, and how to get ahead. Slow and steady, my friends! Slow. And. Steady.

So while I have very little authority to dole out a ton of advice, I’m just going to hit a few highlights that have served me well…

  1. Make your boss look good. I hated this advice the first time I heard it. I was way above that. But I learned how very true it is. I have been able to advance at a high rate, because my bosses have been my mentors, and when opportunities came along, they not only encouraged me but where often the ones to tell me an opening was around the corner. You work to make them look good. They work to make their bosses look good. It means you are doing your job well. I promise, this will serve you well in the end.
  2. Negotiate for a better salary every time you get a job offer. Especially us women. I’m not really a feminist, but it’s proven that there is a gender gap in wages (male engineers at Google make 20% more!). If you ask for even just a little bit more each time you start a new position, it only gives you more leverage for the next one. Asking for more money can be uncomfortable for some people, so be prepared to say why you are asking for more: you have a masters, you have to move, you are losing other perks by changing jobs, you have more experience than they asked for. Whatever it is, just be ready to tell them why you deserve it! They are prepared to offer more if they have to – I promise. And these days, it’s almost impossible to get a raise, so it’s best to negotiate during a job offer.
  3. Get a Masters Degree – but only if you want to. Don’t do it just because you feel like you should. I don’t know if you know this, but grad school is a lot of freaking work. Not only do you have to want a masters, but you have to be really really excited about whatever you choose to study. Or you will definitely fail.
  4. Don’t let them see you smile until Thanksgiving. Okay, I’ve really only heard this one for teachers, but it kind of applies to us non-educators, as well. I’m about to become a boss, so I’m thinking A LOT about how to go about it, and how to get started on the right foot. I’ve had bosses across the spectrum, but the biggest issue I’ve had with a few of them is coming in with one attitude, and then doing a 180 after a few weeks or months on the job. Better to come into your job being super professional, not overly jokey or silly or anything until you’ve really settled in. Take your time getting to know your fellow employees, just as you would getting to know ANYone you meet in your life.
  5. Avoid engaging in office drama and gossip. Obviously. And I admit, this is tough for me sometimes. But you might work for them someday. Or they might work for you. Plus it’s just mean, and as someone who has been on both sides of it, I highly recommend staying away.

Okay so that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ve you’ve read this far, congrats! You deserve a prize. Go get an extra coffee.


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