25 things young professionals must know before 25

The author hit the quarter century mark last month. She shares the lessons from her professional mistakes and missed opportunities (thus far).


Last month, I turned 25. Since becoming gainfully employed, I’ve made a lot of professional mistakes—and learned a few things, along the way. Here are 25 of them. Let me know if you agree, or what you would add to this list.

By 25, you should know how to:

1. Take rejection with poise.

By now you should’ve faced some sort of professional rejection. My favorite was having my résumé handed back to me after a job interview.

2. Do your own bitch work.

Empathy is an important trait for all managers. Knowing what it’s like to do the grunt work makes you appreciate those who have to do it after you. Assuming that you are not above anything will help you soar in your career.

3. Craft an appropriate LinkedIn connection invite request.

I don’t mind getting LinkedIn connection requests from random people, but it irritates me when they don’t have a tailored message and instead use the standard LinkedIn invite line. Here’s an idea for something that could work: “Hi Jenny, I noticed we both work in the Chicago marketing scene and wanted to connect with you. Maybe I could buy you a cup of coffee/tea in the near future to learn more about what you do?”

4. Ask for a raise.

When you’re worth more than you earn, you need to know how to ask for more. After being out of school for three years, learn how to broach the topic. Not sure how to do that? Read this.

5. Delegate work.

Delegating responsibility is underrated. By 25, you should know when it’s appropriate to delegate and how to do it. For example, if someone asks me to perform a task that is within my power, but I don’t have the time for it, I look for the colleague it makes most sense to perform that task regularly, and ask him or her to do it.

6. Pick your battles.

Not every battle is worth fighting; you should know which are worth your time and energy. Getting upset with the way someone sends incessant emails takes a backseat to someone who fails to communicate important pieces of information.

7. Unplug.

Once you answer that work email at 11 p.m., you set a precedent that you’re available 24/7. Unless it’s an emergency, try not to check your work email (or mark it unread and deal with it when you get to the office).

8. Put in your two-weeks’ notice.

If you’re lucky enough to have loved your first job out of college and are still there by 25, bravo! But you should know how to tactfully put in your two weeks’ notice, if you make a career move. This requires a written resignation. Here’s a great guide on doing the dirty deed.

9. Tactfully give your business card at a networking event.

No one likes the business card ninja who swoops in, throws his or her card at you, and leaves you stunned. First, have a conversation with someone. Find out stuff you have in common. Then offer your card as a way to stay in touch.

10. Avoid getting sloppy at a networking event.

An open bar doesn’t give you permission to act like you did at college frat parties. Have a few drinks to loosen up, but keep it professional.

11. Prioritize your time.

For example, tackle your bigger work issues toward the beginning of the day and save your smaller, less important tasks for the end of the day when you’re winding down. Remember: There’s always tomorrow.

12. Set professional goals.

You want accomplishments on your résumé, not just finished tasks. Setting annual professional goals will set you on track to advance your career. Meeting mentors in your industry through networking events and LinkedIn will help you realize what goals you need to prioritize.

13. Send an SOS.

Chances are you’ve felt overwhelmed by your workload at least once in your career. Knowing when and how to send a help signal to your manager and or co-workers is essential to preventing burnout.

14. Conduct an interview.

Knowing how to interview someone is an important skill. Not only does it teach you how to ask the right questions, but also it teaches you what skill set and personality you value in yourself and your potential co-workers.

15. Communicate.

Communication, when done well, sets you apart from other young professionals. Good communication is a strong asset, so learn it while you’re in the beginning stages of your career. For example, when emailing project specs, I copy as many people I think will benefit from the discussion. Bringing someone in during the later stages of development could mean painful—and unnecessary—back-pedaling.

16. Handle being caught venting about co-workers.

It happens to the best of us. Your co-worker commits a major faux pas, and you need to vent about it to another co-worker. Then you get caught. Knowing how to turn it into a dialogue with constructive criticism—or knowing how to avoid it all together—is important.

17. Not sweat the small stuff (you’re not curing cancer).

Unless, of course, you are curing cancer. Then disregard. Ask yourself, “Will this matter a year from now?” If not, don’t sweat it. Acknowledge your mistake and learn from it.

18. Invest in your 401(k)—or at least think about it.

The numbers don’t lie. Someone who starts saving before the age of 25 accrues more interest than someone who starts saving at 30. Not sure how much to invest? This is a great guide.

19. Be a team player.

No one likes a selfish co-worker. Learn this healthy habit early in your career to get ahead of those who didn’t. You can operate under the “CYA” (cover your ass) mentality, just make sure it doesn’t turn into a “TUB” (throw under the bus) one.

20. Talk to the CEO of your company.

Get sweaty palms talking to authority figures? Nix those nerves now.

21. Lead a meeting.

You’ll need to learn how eventually, why not get it out of the way before you turn 25? Have a meeting agenda, and make sure you open it for discussion as often as you can so you’re not the only one talking. Also, you can take it one step further by following up with action items and decisions made during the meeting.

22. Ask for time off without feeling guilty.

You earn your time off, so it’s important to take it with a clean conscience. If you’re planning on having a “Treat yo self” day, look into local brewery tours, daytime trapeze classes, or some simple retail therapy.

23. Put together a visual report.

Putting information into a strong visual report speaks volumes more than just throwing the numbers onto a spreadsheet and clicking send. About 60 percent of people are visual learners, so it’s important to make your information pop with charts and graphs.

24. Give your elevator pitch.

Since I work for a small company, the question I get asked the most is, “What’s Ragan?” It took some practice, but I finally got my company’s elevator pitch down a few months after joining the team. Not sure what yours is? Listen to what your co-workers say.

25. Be a mentor.

By the time you’re three years out of college, you will have had at least one younger person ask you for career advice. Understanding the impact you have as a mentor is powerful, and the relationships you have with mentees can be some of the most rewarding ones you’ll have in your mid-20s.

Jenny Fukumoto is a marketing manager at Ragan Communications. She is also a self-proclaimed Mexicanese marketer, beer buff and networking nerd. A version of this story first appeared on Ragan’s Millennial Mafia blog.

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Topics: PR

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