Congratulations! You’ve just spent four years (more or less) getting ready for the real world. You took classes, you pulled all-nighters, and you successfully landed your first job. But there are many things your education didn’t prepare you for. Here are some of the most important:
1. Practice time management.
If you get 8 hours of sleep and you work a 9-5, what are you doing with the other 8 hours? It’s easy to let those hours be taken up by things that aren’t important to you. Make a plan for those “off” hours and maximize your time. Take a class, go for a run, make plans with friends. Learning how to maximize this time will ensure you can lead a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle.
2. Be proactive.
Good things don’t come to those who wait. No one will care about your career as much as you do, so be proactive about it! Ask for opportunities. Follow new paths that interest you. There’s not one right way to accomplish something, so try things out, learn from mistakes, and keep moving your career in a direction you love.
3. Practice patience.
It can feel overwhelming when it seems like you’re not reaching your goals quickly enough. Learn to love the process of setting and working towards your goals. Practice patience to help you reduce stress and anxiety, which will only keep you from reaching your goals. Remember: happiness is a journey, not a destination.
4. Networking is essential.
You know the saying, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? It’s somewhat true. Yes, being educated on a certain subject or in a certain field is going to be helpful when you’re job searching. But having a network of peers and mentors who can help you on your career journey is just as — if not more — important. Not only can your network help you find job opportunities, but it can also help you succeed in your job.
But don’t go into networking focused on the wrong thing. Form relationships with people from the mindset of “how can I meet and connect with interesting people” rather than “how can this person help me?”
5. Set goals you can achieve.
The years are going to fly by. Do you know what you want to achieve this year? Studies have shown that writing down or vividly describing your goals makes you more likely to achieve them. How do you get started setting goals? Make them SMART: specific (what exactly do you want to accomplish?), measurable (how will you know if you’ve accomplished this?), attainable (can you actually achieve this?), relevant (does this matter to your life?), and time-bound (when are you going to accomplish this goal by?).
6. Learn how to market yourself.
Marketing yourself sounds a little strange, right? But it’s so important! How you speak, act, and present yourself sends people a message about who you are. Think of yourself as a brand: do you like the brand you’ve created? Do you think employers will be impressed by your brand? Also, don’t forget that your digital footprint is getting more difficult to erase. Be cautious about what you put online. You don’t want your online brand to cause you to lose out on real world opportunities.
7. Learn to write effectively.
Want to get people to believe in your ideas? Learn how to write effectively. So much of our day-to-day life is done through written communication. Unfortunately, it’s so easy for there to be miscommunications when writing. Whether it’s a hastily written email or using too many acronyms, poor writing can undermine all of your great ideas. Take time to make sure your emails, texts, and any work documents are written well. It will pay off.
8. Know tax basics.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” So yes, taxes are a big part of adulthood. Whether you file through an online service or hire a CPA, it’s good to know the basics. And part of the basics is understanding what deductions you might qualify for. A few big ones to get you started: anything that you donate to charity, student loan interest deduction, any expenses related to moving for your job that your company doesn’t pay for.
9. Understand investing basics.
Want your money to work for you? Start investing early. When you start investing early you give your money a chance to compound (you can read more about that in investing for beginners). To start, check out your company’s 401(k) or look at an IRA (individual retirement account). Both of these accounts offer tax benefits, which you’ll definitely want to take advantage of. Once you have either a 401(k) account or an IRA, you can pick a mixture of stocks and bonds to put into that account. This article will walk you through the easiest way to get started.
10. Learn to pay yourself first.
Being an adult comes with bills. A lot of bills. There’s rent, groceries, utilities, student loans, commute costs, and taxes to name a few. The list can seem never-ending. While bills are a fact of life, you can’t let them come between you and financial stability. How do you do that? You pay yourself first. Before you spend any money on anything, you set aside money to save. That can be in a savings account or in a retirement account. But the idea is that if you figure out how to save first (pay yourself first), and spend second, you’ll be in a great place financially.
Struggling to pay yourself first? Find ways to cut down. Maybe it’s trimming back your streaming services (do you really need Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon?) or finding the best deal on your cell phone or internet. Shop around. And while you’re at it, put these bills on auto-pay so you never get hit with late fees.
11. Build credit before you need it.
Credit is one of those things that you don’t really think about until you need it. It generally doesn’t impact your day to day — you can get by just fine with cash if you’ve budgeted well. But as soon as you need to borrow money or get a credit card for a big purchase, you’re going to need a great credit score.
The problem is, great credit isn’t built overnight. Start building your credit now so you’ll be prepared for when you actually do need it. Want to know how to build your credit? Check out this article for everything you need to know.
12. Negotiation means win-win.
Negotiation gets a bad rap. It is portrayed as a win-lose situation where one person comes out happy and the other person is left feeling cheated. No wonder the idea of negotiating is terrifying.
But negotiation is actually a win-win situation, and the sooner you can embrace this idea, the better. If you’re negotiating for a higher starting salary, the company is winning as well because they’re getting to hire a candidate they really want on their team. If you’re negotiating a raise, your company is still winning because they’re able to keep a valuable employee (you!) on their team delivering amazing results. Everyone wins. Read this article to help you learn how to easily negotiate.
13. A side hustle is good for your career and your cash.
If you want to make sure you keep learning new skills while earning some extra cash, a side hustle is your best bet. Sure, it can be a lot of work to have a part-time job in addition to your full-time job. But it can be well worth it. It can open up new career opportunities, help you stay on top of new skills, and give you money to put toward your financial goals. And if you pick a side hustle that you have an interest in — maybe it’s writing, social media, photography, design, or really, anything — putting in extra hours might actually be fun.
14. Make your house a home by cooking and cleaning.
Eating out can really break the bank. But good news, you don’t need to become a gourmet chef to enjoy eating at home. Pick a few recipes, buy ingredients, invite a few friends over, and learn together. Having some go-to meals you can easily whip up on a Tuesday night after work will help you save a lot of money and, bonus, stay healthy.
Once you’ve cooked, be sure to clean. It’s so nice to come home each day to a clean house. It gives you the peace of mind to let you focus on other things and actually enjoy your time at home.
15. Be solution oriented.
The best boss I ever had gave me this advice. I had set up a meeting to talk with him about a problem I was having with my work schedule. As I started telling him about the problem I was facing, he stopped me. He said he wanted people to feel comfortable coming to him with their problems, but he was much more likely to want to help someone if they also came with potential solutions. Show that you’ve put thought into your problem and bring ideas to solve this problem to the table.
If you’re not convinced that focusing on solutions is a good idea, consider this: complaining is actually bad for your health. When you’re stressed your body releases cortisol which can interfere with memory, raise your blood pressure, and cause you to gain weight. So take a deep breath and focus on solutions.
16. Develop a work ethic.
A work ethic isn’t something you’re born with. It’s something that’s learned and developed over the years. And while a work ethic is crucial for career success, it can be overwhelming to think about how to develop it. The easiest solution? Aim to be 1% better than you were the day before. If you were frustrated with your progress on something today or you botched a presentation because you weren’t as prepared as you needed to be, don’t get overwhelmed. Focus on being 1% better each day, and you’ll end up going far. This self-discipline will help you develop an amazing work ethic. You can’t teach determination and passion, but discipline is a muscle, and you can make it stronger.