Career Advice I Wish I Knew When I Was 22

When I graduated college, my professors, family and friends shared many words of wisdom about the road ahead. But, since I was 22, most of that advice went unheeded.

I thought I could manage my career with a smile and my new degree.

Boy, was I wrong…

Reflecting almost a decade later here is some of the career advice I wish I knew (and actually listened to) when I was 22:

  • Just because you have a job doesn’t mean you have a career.  You aren’t going to stay at that job forever. (I certainly didn’t).
  • Make sure you have a good manager, who advocates for you, asks you to reflect on the work you are doing and where you want to go in life.
  • Helping out and solving problems makes you an invaluable employee.

I asked around the rest of the Mac’s List to see what additional advice the team would share to their younger selves.  Here is what they had to say:

Ben Forstag (Graduated college in 2001)

I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that it’s okay to not have all the answers.

I remember graduating from college and feeling like I was the only person without a clue about what I wanted to do. Most of my friends seemed (or maybe just pretended) to know their professional calling—many already had jobs lined up or were headed off to graduate school. My only concrete plan was to move back in with my parents!

Only in retrospect did I realize that it was foolish to beat myself for not having my entire professional career mapped out in advance. Most people switch careers multiple times. Plus, your early 20s are the perfect time to test different professional interests.

My career path may have been a bit more circuitous than those of my friends, but ultimately, I’m glad I took the time to explore and find clarity through direct experience.

Anneka Winters (Graduated college in 2003)

I would remind myself to be proactive.

If you are unable to get an answer, don’t push it back on anyone else or your supervisor. Figure it out on your own to find a solution. Exhaust your resources. Go to your supervisor with the problem solved. Everyone involved appreciates this approach and usually you know what the best solution is and don’t need another initial opinion.

It also took me a couple of years to realize that during my annual reviews, I should come prepared showcasing my own accomplishments and not wait for my supervisor to notice them.

Mac Prichard (Graduated college in 1980)

Career experts say as many as 80% of all job openings are never advertised. I wish I had I known how to uncover and navigate this hidden job market when I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1980.

That June, I did what most graduating seniors then and now do. I looked in the “Help Wanted” section of the local newspaper — the pre-Internet era’s job board — and I replied to classified ads. Or I went to an employer’s office and filled out an application. Then I waited for the phone to ring.

Answering ads and completing forms got me a few gigs during the last 36 years. Most times, however, the phone never rang no matter how much effort I put into those applications.

The jobs I’ve enjoyed the most in my career were never advertised. Instead, they were part of that hidden job market. I would have saved myself a lot of time and effort if I’d learned early in my career how to find and get those unadvertised jobs.

What career advice would you give your former self?

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