The professional world presents many opportunities for success and failure—particularly for young women. But young women today are entering the workplace during one of the most politically, emotionally, and technologically charged times in history. While necessary and overdue, this can make it even more difficult for young women to find their way professionally.
Trust that no matter the times, some things are evergreen and mastering them is the key to surviving and thriving along the way. Here’s my best advice for how to navigate those first few years in your career with grace and grit:
- Have a vision, but be prepared to let your path evolve. It’s wonderful to have an idea of where you want to go in your career, but be flexible about how you get there. Don’t get so focused on the end goal that you miss opportunities along the way that can ultimately inform your career. Who knows, you might land your dream job and totally hate it. Give yourself some room to experiment, and even fail. As long as you fail fast and learn from it, you will always have options.
- Remember, you are never done learning. Your education does not guarantee you anything and you are not entitled to anything. As a young professional, you have a lot to learn. Be a sponge because there’s always someone in the room that knows more than you do, so make sure you listen and learn from them.
- Be your own advocate. It’s not your boss’s job to seek out and deliver opportunities that make you a better leader, manager, or employee. So look—and ask—for the opportunities that will get you where you want to go. If you’re not willing to fight for yourself, you cannot expect anyone else to do it for you.
- Learn how to negotiate. Employers are trying to keep costs down, and they are not going to offer you more money just because you’ve been there for a year. Keep in mind, you are in that seat because you add value to that company, so be prepared to prove it. Document the measurable improvements you’re making: how you’re increasing efficiency, driving revenues, and making your employer look good. Then, do your homework. Ask for a slightly higher than reasonable number, and if you get it—great! And if they counter with a lower amount, they feel like they’ve won and you still got yourself a raise.
- Find a mentor. Identify a mentor who can help nurture your professional growth. Find someone who will share industry knowledge and connections, and who you can look to for advice, encouragement, and moral support. Then one day, pass along what you’ve learned to the next generation.
- Your future boss uses social media. Before you apply, know that your potential employer will thoroughly research your social media posts and pages, and maybe even those of your friends. If no one is returning your calls or emails, take a long hard look at your Twitter feed and Instagram handle.
Women currently make up almost 47% of the United States workforce and nearly 60% of all college graduates. This is not a time to hold back on unleashing our potential. It’s time to harness your energy and creativity. Get out there and fight for the professional development opportunities you deserve.