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A Guide to Career Development for Young Professionals

40 years ago, Dolly Parton famously sang about the 9 to 5 working hours, highlighting the mediocrity that often characterizes the standard workday. It can be challenging to muster up the enthusiasm and motivation to make it through the work week, especially with the tumultuous job upheaval of the pandemic. And while not all of us fall into this workday standard, such monotony is not only reserved for the hours between 9am and 5pm. In fact, the average person spends about 90,000 hours at work during their lifetime—that’s roughly 1/3 of your life! Since we spend so much time at our jobs, it’s reasonable, indeed important, that we should desire more out of our work. This is especially true for young professionals (YPs) who are just beginning their career development journey.

Professional Development Tips and Tricks

It is important that employers provide career development opportunities for their young professionals (and for all employees), but it’s equally important that YPs actively and independently pursue career development opportunities in their work. A Gallup poll reported that 87% of millennials value career development as a part of their job. So, what can YPs do to develop their careers on their own? We’ve outlined 5 steps every YP can take:

  1. We know this isn’t a new one, but set goals. While some might call it cliché, there’s a reason SMART goals are a popular method for, well, helping you reach your goals. SMART goals help you set specific, manageable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals. They create a target for you to aim at, specific methods to get there, and the timeframe in which to do it. Framing your goals in this way helps give purpose and direction so that you can actually reach your goals instead of grasping at vague superlatives. Establishing short-term and long-term goals (i.e. where do I want to be next month? vs. where do I want to be in 3 years?) can also help create career structure. These can be helpful in both your personal and professional life.
  2. Establish a growth mindset. Our beliefs are powerful, so what and how we believe about things can dramatically shape how we live and work. In her research, Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck discovered two mindsets: fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe that our inherent attributes like intelligence, character, and creative ability are static and cannot be changed in a meaningful way—success is then an affirmation of those unchangeable abilities. Those with a growth mindset believe that existing skills can be stretched in a meaningful way and failure is merely the starting block of future growth. At the heart of a growth mindset is a desire to learn instead of a thirst for approval. A person’s potential is unknown, and the key to unlocking this potential (and success) lies in a growth mindset. You can learn more about the growth mindset here or read Dweck’s book on her research.
  3. Actively seek mentorship. Mentorships that exist between you and someone who has already walked where you want to be 10, 15, or 20 years down the road are valuable because they can be a mutual sharing of knowledge and ideas. Mentors love to pass on their knowledge and contribute to the next generation. A mentee can learn from their mentor’s experiences and vice versa while building personal connections and ensuring their professional needs are met. This also helps the organization by improving job satisfaction and retention rates. Not only that, but companies that have active and vibrant mentoring programs are generally more successful. In fact, about 70% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs.
  4. Pursue tangible career development opportunities. Attend a webinar, go to a virtual happy hour for YPs, take an online LinkedIn course, attend the networking event, even though it seems intimidating. There are tons of free resources out there. One that we love is Coursera. It’s a massive open online course (MOOC) provider where you can take different classes, earn certificates, or even obtain certain online degrees. You can audit most courses for free, but have to pay for graded assignments, etc. However, they do offer some free courses that are definitely worth checking out. Here at NAS, we’ve invited our team members into ongoing professional development during the pandemic through the programs offered by the International Sign Association.
  5. Take time to care for your mental health. Rapidly changing work conditions, in addition to the standard stressors of a technology-saturated environment, mean that workers need to take special care of their mental health. The Center For Workplace Mental Health by the American Psychiatric Association offers a variety of tips and resources on how to build your mental health and wellness during this challenging time. Tips include daily exercise, regular breaks, and taking time away from your screen. Research does show that regular exercise and taking breaks (including away from devices) can dramatically improve productivity, mood, and help restore motivation. Other research discusses the importance of setting clear work-life and home-life boundaries, which can be difficult in the #WFH era. Here are a few tips for how to keep your home and work life separate if you work remotely. If you need mental health support talk to your HR Department or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline for more information and help.

 Book Recommendations

In addition to taking online courses, attending webinars and networking events, etc., you can also pursue career development by reading. We know… we know… kind of obvious, right? But some of the most successful people are avid readers (think Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and, of course, Oprah). So, we’ve curated a list of books (some even recommended by our own NAS team) for you, covering everything from personal career development, to adapting to the workplace, to creativity.

Books on Professional Development

Blue is the New White: The Best Path to Success No One told You About—Until Now by Josh Zolin – Zolin explains how current culture would dictate that the only path to success is a college degree and white-collar job, but he says there are other avenues to career success. Using his own experiences, Zolin helps readers learn about all the other opportunities that await them in all of the places no one thought to look.

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek – Why are companies like Apple so successful? How did MLK lead an entire social movement? How did the Wright Brothers innovate man-made flight with almost no real resources? Through a concept called the Golden Circle, Sinek, speaker behind the wildly famous Ted Talk, explains how these great leaders understood that people will only buy into your product, service, or idea when they understand why you do what you do. As Sinek aptly puts it, “People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.”

The 10x Rule; The Only Difference Between Success and Failure by Grant Cardone – In The 10x Rule, Cardone invites readers to shed the standard degrees of action and unveils the idea of “massive action.” He offers concrete steps to roll right past those typical corporate clichés to make your business dreams a reality. This is also a good group read.

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek – In another great read by Sinek, he explains how business and politics are a “game” that is played with the intent to keep on playing (as opposed to finite games like chess or football). Leaders who embrace an infinite mindset combined with infinite play build stronger, more innovative, and inspiring organizations.

Books on Changing Workplace Preparation

HBR’s 10 Must-Reads on Change Management – This collection of essays and articles from the Harvard Business Review will help businesses successfully navigate periods of change where other businesses may fail.

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Rights Things Done by Peter F. Drucker – Even though this book came out almost 15 years ago, Drucker explains how the most successful executives take broad strengths like intelligence and imagination and use 5 principles of business effectiveness to mold them into success.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Eric Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee – The advent of new and rapidly changing digital technology has taken the world by storm, and tasks once considered uniquely human will be automated, augmented, digitized, and dehumanized. The authors and MIT grads offer new strategies for businesses to survive and thrive in the new digital world.

Why Customers Leave (And How to Win Them Back) by David Arvin– Arvin explains the recent shifts in customer mindset and behavior, why customers often leave a business for a competitor, and how customer experience is the key to attracting and retaining new prospects.

Work Disrupted by Jeff Schwartz with Susan Riss –– While writing this book for the past 7 years, Schwartz began it as a commentary on the 4th industrial revolution (or the 2nd digital age) to discuss topics like worker displacement, automation, augmentation, and more. But in 2020 Schwartz reimagined the book in light of the pandemic to discuss the rapid changes and innovations that are now part of our world. Released in early January of 2021, this book is extremely relevant to the modern worker.

Books on Creativity

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink – In a world where everyone wants to get ahead but everyone is using the same old methods, Pink explains why right-brainers–artists, storytellers, creatives, holistic-thinkers–have the upper hand and how everyone can capitalize on six fundamentally human abilities to think differently about the world.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – Kahneman explains why the scourge of creativity is lazy thinking and how you can harness the two thinking systems in the brain to unlock true creative potential.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon – No idea is truly original. Everything has already been done before. Instead of dwelling on this somewhat discouraging thought, Kleon discusses how to add your own personal flair to your art or craft along with some useful tips and tricks to get those creative juices flowing.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson – From individuals to companies to societies, Johnson reviews how they came up with great ideas and the seven patterns that are behind some of the greatest innovations of our age.

Books on Personal Development

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear – Habit formation expert James Clear shares with readers how tiny changes in our behaviors can lead to large transformations over time. Most of us don’t want to engage in bad habits, but Clear explains that we just don’t have the right system to change. His proven system for creating good habits and breaking bad ones will help readers to master the tiny, day-to-day changes necessary to reap big results.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown – In this classic must-read, Dr. Brown encourages us to dare greatly by embracing our vulnerabilities and imperfections and by living wholeheartedly so that we can courageously engage in our lives and spark transformation in our homes, communities, organizations, schools, and lives.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson – Manson wrote this book in part as an antithesis of what has become the standard self-help book mantras of mindless positivity, which he views as neither helpful nor functional. In this reverse commentary, Manson uses blunt honesty, dry humor, personal experience, and, of course, a bit of profanity to relate his idea that instead of constantly trying to be happy we should allow the struggles we experience to give life more meaning.

We hope these tips, tricks, and recommendations are helpful in your career journey, or as you help grow career development for young professionals in your own company. Navigating the workplace can be tough, but with the right tools and mindset, you can conquer any goal or challenge.

Read any good books lately that you feel should be on our list? Drop your recs in the comments! And be sure to check our our podcast for more on the latest in business trends.