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5 Career Skills Every 20-Something Should Master

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As a young professional in the workplace, you’ll inevitably encounter certain situations in your career: bad bosses, catty colleagues, work-life balance issues, considering new job opportunities. Navigating the real world isn’t easy, but with more experience and a couple of stumbles and falls along the way, the lessons you learn begin to stick.

As you prepare to enter the next stage of your career, you should have certain skills mastered by now. Not quite there yet? We’ve got a list of the top five career-related tasks you should know how to do and quick tips to brush up on those skills:

1. Write a solid cover letter

Writing a good cover letter is an art. By the time you hit your mid-20s, you should be able to compose a strong cover letter that leads to an interview where you can really show off your stuff.

Quick tips:

  • Address the cover letter properly. That means finding out the hiring manager’s name and personalizing your letter accordingly.
  • Cover letters are not just about presenting your skills; write about how you and your skills can directly benefit the company you are applying for.
  • Show the hiring manager you’ve done your homework. Reference a recent campaign or news article about the company in your cover letter.

2. Interview well

Most people in their 20s have gone on several interviews, whether it be for an internship, a freelance project or a full-time gig. While interviewing can be nerve-wracking, practice makes perfect, and the more you do it, the stronger an interviewee you’ll become.

Quick tips:

  • Remember: you’re interviewing the company as much as they’re interviewing you. Ask specific questions to learn about the company’s culture to ensure you’ll be a good fit.
  • Bring something to show. For example, if you’re applying for a job that requires writing skills, bring examples of your writing. Physically showing something during an interview shows you’ve come prepared, and also allows you to relax for a moment as you flip through a portfolio and explain your samples.
  • Follow up within 24 hours of the interview. An emailed thank you note is fine, but a handwritten thank you note will make you even more memorable.

3. Prioritize

Your to-do list is a mile long and you have no idea where to begin. In your 20s, you’ll learn that not every project carries the same weight. Figuring out which to complete first will help make you a productivity rockstar as you progress in your career.

Quick tips:

  • Figure out when you work best. If you’re most alert in the mornings, block out that time on your schedule for creative assignments that require laser-focus and clear thinking. If you have trouble concentrating on nitty-gritty assignments in the afternoons, use that time for meetings or other, more social work tasks. When you figure out how you work best, you can make the most of your eight hours in the office.
  • Tackle the big items on your to-do list first. Leave the smaller, easy-to-check-off tasks for Friday afternoons or other quieter times in the office.
  • If you’re not sure what to work on next, ask your boss. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help; in fact, your boss will likely applaud you for being self-aware enough to check in.

4. Stand up for yourself at work

Feeling overworked or taken advantage of? Early in your career, it’s important to learn how to defend yourself and tackle workplace issues respectfully, but head-on.

Quick tips:

  • Before you say anything, make a list of all the issues you’re having at work. See if there are places where you can improve or solve the problem yourself. Once you’ve narrowed down the list, then it’s time to talk to your boss.
  • Schedule an in-person meeting with your boss. Don’t address serious issues over email. Face-to-face is best for these kinds of conversations.
  • Document your conversation with your boss and any action items or decisions that come out of that meeting. Use that information to ensure you’re both holding up your end of the bargain.

5. Leave a job gracefully

More than likely, some time in your 20s, you’ll leave a job for a new one. Giving notice to your boss can be scary, but during your last two weeks you can take action for a smooth transition. This will ensure your reputation with your former company stays intact and you leave on a high note.

Quick tips:

  • Share the news with with your boss first. As much as you may want to tell a trusted colleague, to be respectful, your boss should know first. He can guide you on how you should share the news with the rest of the team.
  • Wrap up as many projects as you can, and create a document that breaks down your individual duties and processes so that whoever will be taking over your workload has a solid “how-to” guide to your former job.
  • Thank those who helped you! Be sure to show your gratitude to the people who mentored you along the way with a thank you card or small gift.

What other career-related tasks do you think every 20-something should know be able to do? Share your tips in the comments below!

Jessica Lawlor is a public relations professional, blogger and freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://twitter.com/InterviewSucess Interview Success

    Jessica, great read! To stem from your second point, having great interview skills are a must — they can be the difference between a candidate who lands a job and one who’s put on the backburner. To ensure you have the right skills, do your research, understand what the company is all about, tell the story of you in the interview, and follow-up correctly. You’ll find a more positive outcome when you do so.

    • http://www.CeciliaHarry.com/ Cecilia Harry

      Agreed, and also, practice! Find a mentor, a coach, or a peer to help you practice interviewing. If you are still in school, access their career center. This helped me so much when I was in job search mode.

      • Jessica Lawlor

        Excellent tip, Cecilia! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Great additional tips! I totally agree that it’s important to ensure you have the right skills. Thanks for commenting!

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  • Jodine Ibeme

    Don’t think any job or task is stupid or boring. I see this with 20 somethings many times and leave the job. You never know what that job will lead to.
    Do it with a smile and positive attitude.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Exactly!!! This one is so crucial. Thanks for sharing, Jodine!

  • Razwana

    Jessica – concise but accurate for sure. Leaving a job gracefully – how many of us know how to do this, even in our 30’s / 40’s?!!

    Cecilia also makes a great point about finding a mentor or coach – it does wonders for self confidence, perspective, and all those great things.

    I would add that our 20’s are also really abundant years for exploring skills and interests in the work place. It’s a good for looking into different career paths without it impacting the long-term.

    – Razwana

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Hi Razwana! You are so right- leaving a job is NEVER easy, but there are definitely better ways to do it than others. Thanks so much for your comment.

  • Ryan

    Some good insights. Would disagree with #1 cover letter even being a top 20 especially in todays social media environment. A good LinkedIn profile and 2nd/3rd degree connections are 100x more valuable then any cover letter.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      I definitely disagree. LinkedIn is awesome, but when I hire interns, I read their cover letter first and it’s a really important step in the process for me. If they can’t communicate who they are and why they’d be valuable to my company in a brief letter, that tells me a lot about their skills.

  • http://www.penisincrease.org/ David Johansson

    Great article, not sure if I can agree on second point, but still good job.

    ———————————–

    My blog

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Which tip are you referring to?

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  • http://twitter.com/Lucky_IJ Ijeoma Stephanie

    Good points. Be prepared by doing your research, doing informational interviews and using social media.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      I love using social media when it comes to career-related tasks. It’s another great way to do research!

  • BeyondtheDiploma

    Sounds like you’ve been to different job situations and is mature enough to handle pressures like these Jessica. I appreciate you sharing these helpful tips.

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