I can still remember the first editorial meeting I attended when interning at Style at Home magazine.
I was 23, one month into my internship, and had been invited to sit in on the planning meeting for the magazine’s upcoming issue. My managing editor also requested I bring a story idea to pitch to the team. As I sat around the table with senior editors, designers and art directors, listening to them bounce ideas and feedback off of each other, I was amazed at the breadth of knowledge they had about publishing, from layout to copy to pagination. And when it came time for me to share my story angle, my heart felt like it was about to beat out of my chest – I was scared shitless, had zero confidence in my pitch, and couldn’t bear to make eye contact with anyone. I mumbled through my pitch, just wanting it to be over so I could sink back in my chair and go back to observing.
Looking back on that moment from 10 years ago, I often think of how different that experience would be if it was 33-year-old Lauren sat at that table. The Lauren with years of pitching, public speaking and planning meetings under her belt and that had no problem speaking up and sharing her opinion. The amount of growth that took place in my career during my 20’s was substantial – I changed jobs frequently in order to develop new skills and constantly challenge myself.
And it was those years in my twenties that prepared me for where I am now – working for myself and being my own damn boss. So for all of you who are looking for a little guidance in your career, whether you’re just starting out or are simply feeling stuck, here are 9 important career lessons I learned in my 20’s.
1 Work for someone else.
Whenever I talk to recent graduates who are trying to decide whether to freelance straight out of school or apply for jobs, my advice is always the same: work for someone else and learn everything you can. You may ooze talent and feel like you’re ready to unleash your greatness unto the world, but learning how to run a business from someone with experience is worth its weight in gold. You’ll not only gain real-life experience, but you’ll be able to analyze what works and what doesn’t work in their business before venturing off to do your own thing.
2 First impressions really are everything.
You only get one chance at a first impression, so don’t fuck it up. Before you interview for a job, DO. YOUR. RESEARCH. Find out what the company’s all about, from its recent marketing campaigns to the office culture and its company history. Come prepared with examples and anecdotes from previous work experience, and have at least three questions to ask at the end that show your interest in the company/role. After the interview, stand out from the rest by sending a simple thank-you email. And for the love of whatever god you believe in, proofread your gaddamn resume.
3 Go above and beyond, always.
When I was finishing up my post-grad, I interned for three months at Style at Home magazine here in Toronto. It was unpaid, I was still in school, AND I had a part-time job on top of it all. That being said, I showed up early for my internship and left late, I came in on long weekends and I did more than was asked of me. If I had no work on my desk, I made work. I photocopied, I grabbed coffees and I cleaned the prop room. And at the end of the three months, I got hired for an entry-level position, which was soon followed by a number of promotions at the magazine. The lesson learned is this: you’re never too good to roll up your sleeves and work hard.
4 Seek out a mentor.
I’ve been lucky to have a few mentors in my time, but the two that I had when I started my career were instrumental in my professional (and personal) development. Seek out someone in your field with experience that can guide you along the right path and give you honest, unbiased advice. Having someone you can reach out to when you need guidance on job applications, career moves or client issues will give you peace of mind in your decisions and help you grow as a professional.
5 Own up to your mistakes + learn from them.
There’s nothing worse than sitting around a table with your team to discuss a problem and realizing you’re the one who fucked up. INSERT: PANIC ATTACK. Our initial response is usually to find any way to divert the attention away from ourselves and just hope it’ll all get fixed we’ll never be found out. But instead of blaming others or lying about your mistakes, just own up to them! Explain what happened and that you’re incredibly sorry, then assure your team/boss that you’ll bust your ass to make it right. The problem will be solved faster, your boss and colleagues will respect you more for your honesty and you’ll avoid being caught out down the road (which will happen and is always way worse).
6 If you want something… ask for it.
This was one of the hardest things I had to learn, or really just get comfortable with doing, and it’s something that’s more prevalent amongst women than men. Whether it’s a raise, a title change or simply a new hire to help out with your overflowing workload, you’ll never get what you want unless you ask for it. Bosses and colleagues aren’t mind-readers and usually have their own shit to deal with, so it’s up to you to look after yourself and make sure your needs are taken care of. I find it’s easier to ask for something if I’ve prepared a number of reasons why the request is warranted (i.e. asking for a raise because you now have a team reporting to you).
7 It pays to be nice to people.
Whenever I would freak out about a bad grade in university (hello, required Science course), my mum would assure me: “Once you graduate, no company is going to ask about your grades. They’re going to hire someone who is a good company fit and is easy to work with.” And it turned out, my mum was right. Being a pleasant, easy-going person is something that will get you far in your career and is the easiest thing to master. That doesn’t mean you need to be a pushover in the workplace, however – you can still be a tough manager or driven executive assistant. But throwing colleagues under the bus to get to the top or being someone who can’t work well in teams is only going to come back to bite you in the ass…. on your way out the door.
8 Don’t waste time in a job you hate.
I’m sure we’ve all been there – Sunday night rolls around and your stomach starts to knot as you absolutely dread yet another week at a job you hate. Your twenties are a time for growing and learning and making mistakes, but when you stay in a job that doesn’t challenge you or excite you, you’re damaging not only your mental health, but your professional development, too. And SO MANY OF US DO. Instead of wasting away at your job for years on end and resenting everyone else who is progressing in their career, set a date to leave and do all you can in that time to save money and make a plan for your next move – having a goal and a set ‘quit’ date will keep you on track to actually leaving your job and mentally prepare you for something new.
9 It’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes.
Even though I’m a massive believer in just saying ‘yes’ and figuring it out later, I also learned in my twenties that it’s important to know when to say ‘no’. Whether it’s someone in a position of power telling you to do something that goes against company policy, or you’re overwhelmed with assignments and your boss asks you to tack a few more on, it’s okay to say ‘no’ when something doesn’t feel right. At the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for you, and if something makes you unsure or you’re burning out from too much work, you need to feel comfortable in saying ‘no’ and explaining your reasons why.
What important career lessons have you learned so far?
Let us know in the comments below!