Millennials make up more than one-third of the U.S. workforce (35%), making them the largest generation currently employed (source). But many millennials still struggle to find a job that pays the bills, or a career path that is the right fit.
Being an older millennial myself, I have seen the workplace change over the years. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but also had quite a bit of success. Through both, I’ve learned what it takes to build a successful career no matter where you are starting from.
Career Advice for Millennials
Here are the 7 pieces of career advice I would give to all millennials who want to increase their job satisfaction, advancement opportunities, and income in their careers:
1. Do What You Like (Not What You Love)
The popular advice, especially in millennial circles, is to follow your passion and never settle for less. While I would never advocate taking a job you hate, staking your career on passion can be a dangerous thing.
Your passions can and do change over time – my career interests 10 years ago are certainly different than they are today. And every job has its ups and downs – chasing an ideal 100% match will only end in disappointment.
Instead, find a position that involves work you like to do or brings fulfillment. For example, if you’re a spreadsheet nerd like me, there are lots of jobs in many different fields that afford the opportunity to analyze data and turn it into actionable information to help the business.
I may not love every aspect of a particular job, but I know if I focus on the core of what I like to do (turning raw data into helpful decision-making advice), I can broaden my career horizons and find meaning in my role.
Josh from Money Life Wax, had this to say about following your passion:
While common wisdom says to pick a passion and follow it or “do what you love to do,” the truth to the matter is that there will be good days and not so good days.
However, your ability to bounce back from the not so good days and fight boredom doesn’t go unnoticed. Competitive swimmers aren’t excited to swim every day, but they do it because they know what the end result will be – attaining their goals.
So if you’re a millennial feeling stuck, unappreciated, or maybe you simply don’t feel like you’re crushing it – just fight through it!
It is important to remember to keep your overall goals in mind. Passion can sustain you for a little while, but in the span of your entire career, being willing to weigh the pros and cons and take the good with the bad can lead to a much more successful and meaningful experience.
2. Always Be Learning
The famous football player and coach Lou Holtz said, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying, so get in motion and grow.”
So how do you grow in your career? By constantly learning.
If you want to get ahead, you need to be adaptable. Take on new responsibilities or a different role entirely every few years. Keep up to date on the latest industry news, and apply what you learn to your job. Part of a successful long-term career is being a lifelong learner. If you show the ability to grasp new concepts and trends, and work in varying environments, people will notice and you will be rewarded.
3. Focus on Results, Not Just Tasks
Whether you’re interviewing for a job, asking for a promotion, or just trying to impress your boss, results matter.
Putting tasks on your resume doesn’t wow a hiring manager. Think about the difference between these two statements:
- “Managed a team of 5 finance employees”
- “Led our finance team to achieve 20% underrun vs. budget last quarter”
The second statement is far more attention-grabbing and powerful. In my own experience, I have name recognition with my boss’s boss’s boss (way up the food chain) because of specific project results I’ve achieved that were part of their goals for the organization.
If I was just busy doing my assigned tasks, I would be doing what was expected of me and no more. Go above and beyond. Just doing your job doesn’t get noticed.
4. Network, Network, Network
As an introvert, I so wish this weren’t true. But the one thing that can catapult your career success more than any other is who you know.
Whether it’s inside the company or other peers in your industry, get to know people. According to Peter Koch, “networking is 50% of success.” He goes on to say, “You can have the best resume in the world, but at the end of the day, those are just words on a piece of paper. Having a person of trust who can vouch for you is still irreplaceable, and always will be.”
Networking also opens you up to new opportunities you may not have even considered before. I have worked for the same company my entire career (15 years – a lifetime for a millennial!), but I’ve held at least 7 or 8 very different positions.
Based on my degree, I have no business being in my current role. My career would never have evolved as it has without getting to know people outside my immediate peer group.
As the author at YouBeThree puts it, “Often, making a change comes from the inspiration we get from others. But you’ll never know what is possible, or what others are doing, if you don’t put yourself out there and just talk.”
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks
The best time to take risks and try new things is early on in your career. Whether that means working for a start-up, testing out a completely different career path, or working on that side project you always wanted to do.
Sometimes the best way to learn is to take on risks, and the entrepreneurial spirit is celebrated even (surprisingly) in large companies.
According to Tom Blake of This Online World, “career building is not just about putting in the hours at a 9-5 and praying for progression. Rather, to truly accelerate your career path, you need to consistently grow your skills and seek out new challenges.”
He says one of the best ways to learn and grow is to start something new.
Start a side hustle, business, or venture to make extra money that forces you to learn new skills. This is hands down the fastest way to grow as an individual. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog, a business, or even just volunteering at a different organization you care about: push yourself to try new things and grow.
This will undoubtedly have a carryover effect for your main job, and the skills you learn will open a world of opportunity for career advancement.
6. Find a Mentor
As millennials, I think we are programmed to be unique and reject any advice from the outside world. But connecting with someone who is a few steps ahead of you can be immensely helpful.
While many companies offer a formal mentorship program, you don’t have to go that route. Find someone inside or outside your company that is doing what you want to be doing in 5-10 years. Take the time to learn their story, and how they achieved success. Ask them about their day-to-day life. You may find it’s not as glamorous as it seems from the outside and you can course-correct and steer in a different direction.
Or maybe it’s exactly what you want to be doing, and your mentor can help you get there. Remember the advice to “network, network, network”? It’s highly likely your mentor’s network is much stronger than yours, and you can leverage that for even greater opportunities!
7. You Won’t Always Get It Right the First Time
Relax. You don’t have to have the next 40 years of your career figured out today. And you can and will make mistakes along the way.
I graduated with an engineering degree and used it for all of 6 months before moving on to something else. Some people would say I wasted my time getting that degree, but I believe it helped me open doors to other opportunities. It’s hard to know what you want to do at 25, much less at 18 picking a college major. So don’t stress about the details.
While millennials are often derided by older generations for jumping ship the moment things get tough, there’s nothing wrong with admitting your current position isn’t a good fit and looking elsewhere for a more fulfilling job where you can use your skills.
Here is some advice from a few others who took awhile to figure out the “secret” to their own personal success.
At the outset of my career, I only thought of advancement and arranged my expectations to focus on this as my sole measure of success. While I experienced some early progress with a promotion in less than a year of beginning my first post-college role, the next few years resulted in stagnation.While I felt stuck at the time, in hindsight, I have come to recognize the development of immensely useful hard and soft skills. Further, I developed an appreciation for doing the best I can in the role I’m in instead of focusing only on what it takes to get to the next level.After making that change, I felt my stress dissolve and I managed to get out of my own way. As a result, I’ve realized extraordinary career advancement I never could have imagined. By deciding to be the best I can in my current role, I simultaneously removed pressure placed on myself and began to enjoy the day-to-day work I performed. A few promotions and a switch to my dream job didn’t hurt either.
My advice is to find something that is a good fit for your personal interests and strengths and don’t worry about what other people think or expect. I bounced around several different jobs in my 20’s and when I was 30, I left my full-time job to pursue self-employment through my online business.It was the best career decision I ever made even though most of my co-workers thought I was crazy. Most of them didn’t like their jobs, but they were stuck in that routine and not willing to step out and try anything different.
The Secret to Growing Your Career
As a millennial, it can feel hard to fit in to the modern office culture. Things have changed drastically in the past 10-20 years, and it can be tough to keep up with the changing rules.
But if you follow these 7 pieces of career advice for millennials, you can be sure to stand out in the marketplace, find a fulfilling career path, and be on your way to growing your income faster than you thought possible.
Andrew Herrig is the founder of Wealthy Nickel, where he writes about personal finance, side hustles, and entrepreneurship. As an avid real estate investor and owner of multiple businesses, he has a passion for helping others build wealth and shares his own family’s journey on his blog. Andrew’s expert advice has been featured on CNBC, Entrepreneur, Fox News, MSN, and more.