I wish I knew... young professionals share their top career lessons

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Young professionals

After many years of interviewing a huge range of professionals for our 60 Second Interview series, from airline pilot to dental nurse, we’ve learned a thing or two about the world of work.

One of the questions we always ask our interviewees is: what do you wish you’d known before starting your career? If you could go back in time, what work advice would you have benefited from most? What’s the advice you would give you younger self?

And where were a few tips that we kept hearing again and again. So here are 8 hard-won lessons you can put to good use in your own career.  

1. Get out there and meet people

Use any opportunity you can to meet people in the Career Zone you’re interested in. Networking can make all the difference.

Nutritionist Marianna

Nutritionist Marianna has similar work advice: “I think it would have been helpful to know more people in the nutrition industry and perhaps have a mentor; this way I could have been able to get as much advice as possible.”

Financial advisor Joe has similar work advice:“If you get to know someone in an industry you are interested in and they remember you when a future role comes up, it could be the foot in the door you need – this could save you years of time and help escalate you quickly to an ideal role."

2. Skills are everything — and they’re easier to gain than you might think

You probably already know that transferable skills are really important for work. Whether it’s communication abilities or teamworking, these skills are going to really help you out when it comes to applying for jobs. But what our interviewees told us is that you can develop these skills in lots of different ways – if you stay curious.

As content executive Jessica told us: “When I was at school, I tended to take lessons at face value. When you’re researching case studies in science, or drafting a geography essay about volcanoes, it can be easy to think ‘How is this relevant to me and my life?’, but it’s the transferable skills behind these tasks that hold the true value – those are the skills you’re going to be using for the rest of your life, so you’ve got to hone them while you can.

"I wish I had asked more questions and gotten more out of those tasks than I probably did."

3. Be ready to learn from your mistakes

Accountant Peta

Nobody expects you to do things perfectly the first time, points out accountant Peta, who realised she was dyslexic after repeatedly failing job interview assessment tests.

“If I hadn’t have been committed to learning from my mistakes, and finding out how I could overcome the challenge I was facing with those tests, I might have ended up in a very different position and not even know about my dyslexia,” she says.

“A career is all about learning, developing and challenging yourself. It’s important to learn from your own (and others’) mistakes.” 

4. Be brave and try new things 

Before he started his career, project manager Sam wish he’d known all the “benefits of trying new things and putting yourself into situations that most people would shy away from”.

He says, “Volunteering to deliver presentations to senior directors at executive committee meetings, approaching strangers to ask for advice and mentoring, and signing up for courses and talent programmes have been hugely beneficial in terms of getting me where I want to be and building relationships with the right people."

5. Work experience *really* is important

You’ve probably already heard loads about why you really need to do a work experience placement. 

Event coordination apprentice Ellie

But event coordination apprentice Ellie really nails it when she says: “It’s not all about the education you have received. Of course this is important and ticks boxes on your CV but once you really get into the events industry it is all about experience and learning from others and your own past events. Getting work experience in the career you want to be in before going into it is the best way to find out what it is really like.”

6. Learn how to really speak (and listen) to people 

When we asked fashion entrepreneur Cat for advice you would give your younger self, she said knowing how to communicate effectively has been a big part of her career.

“I wish I had had the ability to read people, to understand what their words, tone and gestures mean at a deeper level and the ability to adapt how you relate to them in various situations,” she says. “It is at the heart of how well you communicate with and how well you come across to others.”

7. University isn't the only path

Apprenticeships or school-leaver programmes are fantastic options if you feel like university isn’t right for you — and they’re available in loads of different careers.

Railway apprentice Megan 

“I wish I knew about the Carillion apprenticeship earlier than I did,” says railway apprentice Megan. “I don’t think schools promote apprenticeships as much as they should, it feels like the concentration is mostly on A-levels. An apprenticeship can help you to get onto a good career path and learn valuable skills whilst also being paid and meeting lots of new friends.”

8. Don't worry if you haven't got it all figured out

Plenty of our interviewees pointed out that you don’t have to do one career for life, and it’s ok not to have everything worked out right now.

“Don’t feel like you have to jump into a single profession for the rest of your life – the career world isn’t like that anymore!” says management consultant Dr Shirani. “Career changes can happen at any stage in your life and I recommend you to welcome them with open arms. I’ve opened more doors to my life and work, as a result of being brave enough to try something new. Think about the skills and learning experiences you want to gain, and go for something that gives you the right opportunities for now but also the stepping stones to future ones.”

Read this next: What job should I do?

Compliance partner Chris agrees, but adds that getting good careers advice is key.

“I wish I knew more about what career options were available to me, so going to graduate fairs, talking to careers advisors etc. That first job decision isn’t necessarily a lifelong decision, but it may have helped me avoid a few ‘what do I do now’ moments.  Be organised and take time to think about what you want. But if you don’t work it out, you can still be really successful if you apply yourself correctly and do your best at whatever you fall into!”

And finally, as yoga teacher Zoe reminds us: “I wish I’d started this career sooner as I spent quite a few years thinking about doing it, but didn’t take the leap. Believe in yourself and do what you’re good at!”

Main image clockwise from top left: project manager Sam, content executive Jessica, yoga teacher Zoe, compliance partner Chris, and management consultant Shirani.

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