Have you ever wished you could make your career choices again, but with the power of hindsight? Is there any advice you wish you’d been given at the start of your career? We asked a group of alumni who have found success in their industries: what is the one piece of career advice they would give themselves in their twenties?
If you’re in your twenties now, you really should be reading this.
The consensus among the alumni was that you should be the driving force behind your own career, and that you shouldn’t sit back and wait for opportunities to come to you. “Your career is not an event,” said one alumnus. “You can’t be a spectator.”
According to statistics from The Career Psychologist, 60% of UK employees would choose a different career if they could start again, which makes it all the more important that you are proactive early on.
“Remain focused on what your goal is when looking into your career. The right job doesn’t just fall into your lap and you have to find a way of getting noticed,” said a Senior Financial Analyst at a global financial services firm.
Many of the alumni emphasised the importance of taking opportunities, and if none are available, creating them.
Jane Spurgin, Consultant and Partner at Future Skills Group, said: “Whatever opportunities life presents, don’t be afraid to jump on and see where it takes you. Energy, enthusiasm and hard work will always propel you forwards. Be brave.”
Another alumnus, a partner at a leading PR and events agency, agreed: “My advice to myself would be to challenge yourself, don’t give up on finding your perfect job… Keep asking questions and whenever the opportunity arises for you to develop your career further, do it.”
In addition, many alumni were keen to highlight the benefits of networking. “Don’t isolate yourself,” said one. “Get involved with as many societies and groups relevant to your career as you can. You never know when you might need to get help from one of your connections.”
The London School of Business and Finance recently conducted a study on how satisfied UK professionals are with their careers. They found that 47% of the UK workforce would like to make a career change. Of the 18-34 year olds participating, over 60% wanted to make a career change, with 54% of these saying they would look to make a change in the next year. The younger workforce is increasingly daring to try new career paths and take risks.
One alumnus we asked pointed out that when you’re younger, you’ve got time to try things out and also to make mistakes. “Don’t impose limits on yourself. Your first job doesn’t need to define your whole career. Instead, focus on the skills you can get from it and use the time to consider the bigger picture.”
Getting work experience was another popular piece of advice. One alumnus recommended: “Get as much work experience as you can in a variety of different fields that interest you. Employers want to know you’ve been thinking about building your career from a young age.” Another reiterated: “Do everything you can to build on your skills – it can open a lot of doors for you later on.”
The LSBF study also found that the three biggest motives for making a career change were salary prospects, improvement of work-life balance and improvement of job satisfaction. But with so many job seekers striving for the same objective, how would our alumni recommend making yourself desirable to employers in today’s very competitive job market?
“Think about what ‘you’ can bring to the role and organisation not where you don’t match the job description, one alumnus, a Regional Account Director, advised. Our Senior Financial Analyst also suggested being entrepreneurial in your approach: “It may not be through normal methods, but keep plugging away and eventually something will happen for you.”
Another great piece of advice was to think about placing yourself in the future job market: “I would say focus on technology and gain professional qualifications that employers value.”
A Career Builder survey in 2014 found that 77% of employers in the UK considered ‘soft skills,’ such as communication, problem solving, teamwork or adaptability, to be just as important as technical knowledge. This is great news for job seekers who are looking for new opportunities where they can apply their current skills, without necessarily having the right qualifications or specific experience.
The main message that we can learn from the experiences of our alumni is that your twenties is the perfect time to take opportunities, work hard and make mistakes, and that it pays to plan ahead.