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The Young Professional’s Guide to Getting Ahead in Your Career

With advances in technology, automation and globalization, as well as the collapse of our economy, the workplace has changed significantly. Today, there’s no linear career path. A college degree won’t guarantee you a job, and the economy is so volatile that where you start will probably not be where you end up.

Things that mattered in the past—your GPA and college major—aren’t as important as your network, your online presence, your work ethic and the right skills. These days, we’re playing by a completely different set of rules.

Here are five career secrets that’ll help you stand out, create new opportunities and get ahead at work:

1. Think inside the box first

The average GenY worker will stay at his first employer for a mere two years before moving on. If they don’t see an opportunity to move up, they move out. But there’s more than one way to advance and gain new experiences and skills. You can make a lateral move by switching into a different department or applying for a new position internally. When everyone is looking to move out, searching from within makes you stand out.

A lot of managers say they want to promote those who have had experience working in different departments and business functions. This experience gives them a broader perspective on how the company operates, thus making them more valuable and better positioned. Thinking inside the box will open new opportunities you didn’t think were possible.

2. Be more than your job description

Just doing your job isn’t enough to get ahead. If all you do is what’s written in your job description, you can be easily replaced by someone who will go above and beyond expectations. Once you’ve proven yourself, become dependable and shown your value, you can ask for additional responsibilities.

The more responsibilities you take on, the easier it’ll be for your manager to get ahead and eventually promote you into their position. Always keep your eye out for new opportunities and network as much as possible so that you can expand your knowledge base, connections and value.

3. Focus on soft skills over hard ones

Managers are looking for soft skills over hard skills and social media skills. It’s easier for companies to find professionals with the right hard skills, but finding someone who’s a good communicator, has emotional intelligence and is able to prioritize work is more challenging.

Put yourself into as many social situations as possible, learn to read people, get feedback from your manager and coworkers and work to develop your soft skills. As you move up in an organization, soft skills become more valuable because you’ll be managing people and leading them to accomplish goals.

4. Maintain your digital presence

The Internet is the global talent pool, and to receive new opportunities, you have to be a part of it. The best way to do that is by having your own website and profiles on social networks, especially LinkedIn. If people can’t find you, you won’t get offers. Over 90 percent of companies use social networks to recruit these days.

Creating these profiles isn’t enough; you must optimize them by linking them together, using keywords that reflect the job you want and marketing them through guest articles, comments on blog posts and PR for yourself. Constantly manage your online presence—what other people say about you online is how you’ll be represented to the world.

5. Acquire knowledge through connections

While many people are trying to learn as much as possible to stay relevant, the best way of gathering insights and getting ahead is through networking. We’ve moved from an information economy to a social one that requires you to be in the know and rely on people to connect you with information and opportunities. The size and strength of your network will determine how far you go in your career. Make sure you’re meeting at least one new person each day.

Dan Schawbel is a GenY career and workplace expert, the Founder of Millennial Branding and the author of the new book Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success. Register for the free webinar of his book launch event for more advice.


  1. treptalks

    Excellent points, Young professionals can learn a lot from this article. My experiences working in the corporate world:
    1. Starting out try to find work at a BIG corporation unless you are looking for entrepreneurship kind of experience, then working at a startup may be beneficial. Big corporations have structures and policies and future opportunities that can benefit your career. At smaller companies, you are always trying to save your butt from getting fired.
    2. I have found that 90% of your professional success will depend on interpersonal and verbal and written communication skills. At College/University, take every opportunity to develop these skills.
    3. Create a professional digital identity. These days everyone searches your name to see what you have been upto online.

    4. As mentioned, network like crazy!

  2. Made me shook my head. Agree so much, learning shouldn’t stop when you work. It’s a continuous pattern so don’t lose the fire. Keep that desire burning all the time. Be that someone everyone wants to have in a company. Be a need and a want. :)

  3. Creating these profiles isn’t enough; you must optimize them
    by linking them together, using keywords that reflect the job you want
    and marketing them through guest articles, comments on blog posts and PR
    for yourself. Constantly manage your online presence—what other people
    say about you online is how you’ll be represented to the world.

    baixar spybubble

  4. Great list. For #2, the real key to promotion is to do the job description of the role you want to be promoted into it. If you show you can do the next-level work, it’s easy to promote you because there’s no concern of “if” you can handle it–you’ve already been doing the job.

  5. edt

    This article made me ‘uncomfortably’ evaluate my current way of thinking and had me questions my mindset – since I am a perfect example of generation Y – extremely proud of were I come from, very aware of the person I am even at 23 years of age and questioning everything within my organisation (which makes it very difficult for me to adapt to the corporate environment – and for corporate to adapt to me). I have been fighting against most of these tips (because that is just not what I believe in -“playing the game” to get ahead) and therefore maybe hurting my career unknowingly. In a nutshell – this article inspired me! Looking forward to reading the book….

  6. Pingback: The Young Professionals’ Guide to a Great Career | The Savvy Intern by YouTern

  7. OldGuy in Tosa

    A corollary here is in order. For those folks watching the wholesale flight of coworkers, that presents a fantastic opportunity for future your position, either where you are, or where you end up. Perseverance and working through seemingly insurmountable issues become those items which a)show up on future reviews of your worth to the company and promotibility, or, b)provide perfect fodder for that ever present interview question ‘…tell me about a time when…’, and you actually have a 1st hand example of success! Cliches aside-whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

  8. Career Sidekick

    The part about being more than your job description is really important. That type of mentality will lead to a lot of future career success, in my experience.

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