10 Things You Should Do In Your 20s For Career Success

The choices you make in your 20s have an enormous impact on your long-term career success and satisfaction. This decisive decade sets the stage for the rest of your professional journey.

With this in mind, here are 10 critical things every professional in their 20s should do to start their career off on the right foot:

  1. Gain relevant work experience. Experience is absolutely essential at this point in your career, so take any job that will give you hands-on exposure in your desired industry or profession. The experience itself matters more at this stage than a fancy job title or high pay. Valuable internships or entry-level positions open doors to bigger opportunities later.
  2. Build technical skills. Identify the hard skills – relevant software, programming languages, technical processes, etc. – that are in highest demand within your field. Invest time and effort into mastering these technical skills while you’re still young and unburdened by major responsibilities. The sooner you become highly skilled, the sooner you’ll start progressing your career in a meaningful way.
  3. Develop soft skills. While gaining technical competencies, also work aggressively to strengthen your soft skills like communication, teamwork, time management, adaptability and leadership. These soft skills rely more on self-awareness and emotional intelligence, so the younger you start refining them the better. Soft skills often become more important than hard skills as your career advances.
  4. Establish good work habits. Begin instilling healthy work habits that will serve you for decades, like showing up early, meeting deadlines, networking authentously, admitting and learning from mistakes, documenting processes and transitioning work effectively. Your 20s are a clean slate – don’t cement bad habits that hinder your progress later on.
  5. Build your network. Use your current job and extracurricular activities to meet as many professional contacts as possible. Cultivate these relationships early and evaluate how each person could potentially help further your career down the line. Consider joining related organizations where you’ll meet mentors, hire managers and like-minded peers who could become valuable connections.
  6. Find a mentor. Identify one or two people in your industry whose career path you admire, then ask them to mentor you. Mentors offer valuable wisdom, guidance and opportunities you likely wouldn’t receive otherwise. A great mentor is one of the best investments you can make at the beginning of your career.
  7. Pursue internships. If you haven’t landed your dream job yet, aim for an internship within your ideal company or industry. Even unpaid internships offer priceless experience, exposure to career options and foot in the door access that can turn into a full-time job later on. Do whatever it takes to get your “first break” in your 20s.
  8. Take risks. As you have less responsibilities now, your 20s provide a unique opportunity to take calculated career risks. Apply for roles that may be considered a stretch, change jobs to gain exposure in different areas and volunteer for high-visibility projects. Smart risks early on can accelerate your learning, strengthen your network and make you stand out as a “rising star.”
  9. Continue learning. Never stop educating yourself. Whether through online courses, seminars, books or alternative credentials, commit to learning one new skill or gaining one new certification every year. Continual learning keeps your skills relevant, expands your network and shows prospective employers you’re a self-motivated lifelong learner – an attractive quality at any age.
  10. Avoid debt. Try your hardest to avoid accumulating significant debt – especially consumer or credit card debt – in your 20s. Unnecessary debt carries high interest rates that suck money away from saving and investing, potentially hindering your financial security for decades. Live below your means, save aggressively and pay off existing debts as soon as possible.

In summary, these 10 actions can truly set the stage for remarkable, fulfilling career progress in subsequent decades. But remember: it all starts now, in your 20s. So waste no time gaining experience, building skills, forming good habits, seeking mentors, taking smart risks and developing healthy financial behaviors that will serve as a rock-solid foundation for the rest of your professional journey. Your future self will thank you.