Master these 3 skills in your 20s and watch your career soar

This is the skills trifecta for a fruitful career. You’ll thank us later.

Master these 3 skills in your 20s and watch your career soar

Career success: Everyone has a definition for it. For some, it’s a ticket to the C-suite, or a six-figure salary, or the perfect work-life balance. No matter your long-term goal, the key to achieving it is to launch your career with enough force to propel yourself to the finish line.

“View the early stages of your career as gathering rocket fuel,” says Courtney Templin, co-author of Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management. “You should be a sponge. Learn as much as you can. Show people you’re a problem solver. Study up on business trends and competitors.”

In short: Become an expert in your field, and leverage the relationships you build. To jumpstart your career, make these three pivotal moves.

Build your network organically

Making authentic connections early on will lead to more job opportunities in the future, so network your butt off from the get-go.

Unfortunately, many millennials focus the bulk of their time and energy on building their network online, laments Chip Espinoza, author of Millennials@Work: The 7 Skills Every Twenty-Something (and Their Manager) Needs to Overcome Roadblocks and Achieve Greatness. In turn, 41% of millennials surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers said they prefer to communicate electronically at work than face-to-face. The upshot: Learning how to connect with people in person gives you an edge. “There is a dimension to face-to-face networking that’s irreplaceable,” says Espinoza.

Step away from the computer and attend industry conferences to rub shoulders with recruiters and influencers. Set specific goals for each event, such as meeting a representative from your dream employer. Having meaningful conversations is crucial to making a lasting impression, so don’t be a “drive-by networker” and just hand out your business card and move on, Templin advises. Brush up on the latest industry news and use it as an icebreaker.

Additionally, you can meet people in person through events held by your alumni association, volunteer work, and sports leagues. Keep in mind that “you need to network on a consistent basis—not just when you’re on the job hunt,” says Templin.

Always be in learning mode

One-third of employers report difficulties filling vacancies because of a lack of technical skills, ManpowerGroup reports. At the same time, only one in five are providing additional training and development to existing staff. Therefore, you’ll need to equip yourself with the skills that are in demand in your field.

To determine what those are, look to job description requirements, which you can use as a templates for what skills you need. Furthermore, get clear expectations from prospective managers during job interviews. Templin recommends asking: “What types of skills and competencies do you want to ensure I’m developing?”

Looking to acquire hard skills or certifications on a budget? Websites such as Udemy and Coursera offer a number of free and low-cost courses with video tutorials on topics like social media marketing and Excel.

The best way to gain soft skills, meanwhile, is by learning on the job. Seek out mentors both at and outside your employer to learn from more seasoned workers. Also, be the first to volunteer for new projects and cross-departmental projects. “Always be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone,” says Jim Finkelstein, author of Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace.

Have an open line of communication with your boss

Always have a clear picture of what your boss wants, says Finkelstein. To do that, you’ll need to have a consistent dialogue with your manager about what you’re doing well and what you can improve upon. Meet for weekly check-ins to discuss your performance and make sure to solicit specific feedback (e.g., “On a scale of one to 10, how did I perform on this assignment, and what would make it a 10?”).

Since job descriptions change every 12 to 18 months, says Espinoza, also meet with your boss on a quarterly basis to reevaluate your responsibilities. “Ambiguities are kryptonite,” he says. The sooner you foster a good relationship with your manager, the sooner you’ll be able to nab your first raise or promotion.

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