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Career Advice I’d Give My 22-Year-Old Self

A few weeks ago, I attended a networking event geared toward young women interested in growing their careers and finding inspiration from business leaders. During the Q&A segment, a recent graduate raised her hand and asked, “What advice would you give someone who is fresh out of college?” I remembered my own whirlwind transition from college to a career and I know her question is one many graduates have when looking to educate themselves about the professional world. If you could turn back the clock and give your younger self career advice, what would you recommend? Here’s what came to mind for me.

Embrace Feedback to Build Character

No one in this world is perfect; we all have areas where we can improve. Yet, despite how “in tune” we might think we are with ourselves, many people have the tendency to become personally offended and, more often, defensive when receiving criticism. As a result, we fail to consider what may be very helpful career advice. We become fixated on justifying our own behaviors and shut down to constructive feedback. As a senior in college, I took a creative writing course and shared my final paper with my mother so she could proofread it. I was so confident in what I had written that when she said it was “too formal,” I claimed that she didn’t know the purpose of the assignment. Shortly after, to my dismay, my professor gave me the exact same feedback. I learned that it is important to take time to absorb feedback and understand how you can use it to refine your skills. Take 24 hours to let information sink in and, if you still have questions, ask your manager the following day. After all, the most successful people are those who can use constructive criticism as a catalyst for improving themselves. 

Enhance Your Personal Brand

In an age where social media is so prevalent, use technology platforms to enhance your brand. For most 22-year-olds, social media is associated with “likes” and “followers” and we forget the most beneficial use for it—building your professional brand. But do yourself a favor and make private, or remove, any photos that might be deemed inappropriate by future employers. While your friends might think your new Facebook profile photo of you doing a keg stand is cool, chances are your new boss will be less impressed. Additionally, if you do not already have one, create a LinkedIn profile including your most up-to-date resume. Highlight important skills that may give you a leg up on competition and request references from previous employers who can speak to your work ethic. And while professionalism is paramount, you don’t need to lose yourself completely. You can use your background photo or even add interests to showcase yourself. 

Expand Your Network

In a saturated market of fresh graduates, the statement “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” could not be more relevant. Networking is relationship building and there are many ways to develop an extensive network. One “no-brainer” technique for adding more people to your professional circle is through networking events. Sites such as Meetup, Eventbrite, and even LinkedIn are great ways to identify professional networking events where you can bring your virtual network offline to make real-life connections. Another easy way to expand your network is by joining your college alumni group. This is a great way to strike up a conversation with a variety of people, especially because you all have something in common. Finally, get social! Try expanding your social circle by joining a sports league or a book club. Last summer, I joined a soccer league through Social Boston Sports. During a night out with my teammates, I casually dropped that I was involved in tech staffing. To my surprise (and luck), a girl from my team explained that she recently graduated from Northeastern and was looking for a role as a UI Developer. We immediately shared our contact information and I was able to send her resume out to a few prospective clients. As you make new friends, you will also make new professional contacts you can add to your growing network. Regardless of what industry you work in or your role within a company, a robust network can only benefit you. 

Define Your Own Success

Everyone wants to be successful. But what does that actually mean for you personally? Do you desire money or power? A mansion on Martha’s Vineyard? Ten thousand followers on Instagram? Most people think that money translates to success, which in turn affects your overall well-being. However, I’ve come to learn that money is not necessarily the key to happiness. Not long ago, I watched a Netflix documentary called Minimalism. It featured former Wall Street broker, A.J. Leon, who walked away from a corner office to pursue a life of meaning. He said, “My boss said basically you’re going to make twice as much money as you do. You’re effectively going to be number three in the company. I hated my life. I was completely and utterly passionless about what I was doing and always had been.” This interview struck a chord with me. The truth is, there is no “one size fits all” career path. Different people are motivated by different things and measure success in different ways. Stop wasting your energy on what other people think of your idea of success and start putting that energy towards furthering yourself. Set clear, objective goals and research what steps will get you to where you want to be. 

It’s never too late to listen to the advice you might have given your younger self. Whether you’re twenty years into your career or just starting out, following these words of wisdom will be beneficial in furthering your employment opportunities and opening up new career possibilities.