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21 Pieces of Career Advice We’d Give Our Younger Selves

Topics: Negotiation

If you could go back in time and give your younger self career advice, what’s the one thing you’d say? For some, it would be to negotiate a higher salary or start investing more heavily in a 401k. Others might go all the way back to college and follow their dreams — or pick a career with a better occupational outlook, and fund their personal projects that way.

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(Photo Credit: Wendy Longo Photography/Flickr)

Recently, we asked readers on Facebook what they’d tell their younger selves about building the career of their dreams. Here’s what they wish they knew way back when:

Do You Know What You're Worth?

1. Ask for more.

Susan: “Don’t be afraid to reach higher and ask for more (money, responsibility and even vacation days).”

Elizabeth: “When someone offers you a job, you should always ask for more money. They may say no, but they won’t withdraw the offer. (And if they do, you didn’t want to work there.)”

David: “Don’t undersell your services.”

Jenn: “Like others have said, my advice to myself would be: Don’t undervalue yourself. EVERY time I’ve quoted a price that I think is ridiculously high, the client has agreed without flinching (at least noticeably). This includes times where I’ve charged way more than I thought I should because I didn’t want to do the project but didn’t want to say no either.”

2. Don’t be scared of STEM.

Kate: “Science is super cool and not scary hard and to do something involving awesome field work so you’re not chained to a [bleeping] desk all [bleeping] day.”

Jenny: “It’s a terrible thing to admit, but your father is right: You should be an engineer.”

3. Know when to fold ’em.

Anna: “Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you somewhere when you’re miserable.”

Paul L.: “Change jobs more often! Without major changes and updates in title and pay, three years is about max. You learn all you can and go from innovating to navigating a system. Treading water at that point.”

4. Be brave.

Jesus: “I would tell me to QUIT RIGHT NOW, and go do what you really want.”

5. Make a plan.

Katie: “Don’t let your career happen by chance, make it happen. Take steps to advance. Don’t be scared to ask for what you want. Play the game or the game will play you!”

6. Build your skills.

Anne: “For your own sake, take some marketing/copywriting courses in college.”

Johnny: “Pay more attention to the things you find boring as they will serve you better in life.”

7. Track your successes.

Elizabeth: “Keep track of all your accomplishments and write them down somewhere outside of your work. Even small ones. You’ll need them when you look for more work or ask for a raise/promotion.”

Meghan: “Keep a portfolio of your work, whatever it is.”

8. Know what success looks like to you.

Lauren: “I’d tell my younger self to disconnect, in a purposeful way, from my parents’/society’s ideas of career success before making a single career choice. I thought ‘career’ had to mean black pants and your own phone extension. That’s not me at all. As much of an independent non-conformist as I try to be in other areas, I still fell into the 9-5 trap for a spell. So I’d tell my younger self it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. I’d also tell myself not to worry about money. I was so seduced by my first office job paycheck, I stopped paying attention to whether I was even remotely connected to the work. It became all about the paycheck. That didn’t serve me in the end, though I know the just-a-paycheck mindset does work for other people.”

9. Invent your own career.

Blair: “Make your own job. Don’t wait for people to hand you tasks and projects and interesting stuff. Go find the work, offer to help and build your career.”

10. Listen.

Johnny: “Take the time to listen even if you think the advice isn’t worthwhile.”

11. Be loyal to yourself, not your employer.

Paul L.: “Do not get emotionally involved in your job. In the people — yes! In the task — yes! In the company — no!!! They run a business, and so do you.”

12. Money isn’t everything, but you won’t get very far without it.

Alexander: “If I could go back, I’d be a parking space — they make sometimes three or four times as much as I do.”

Colleen: “If you’re going to freelance, take some finance classes/advice and start being responsible early.”

13. Don’t be afraid to be smart.

Sarah: “FOR SURE learn how to ask for more money. Also, find a good mentor. Don’t be afraid of being smart (which I think mostly applies to women).”

14. If you’re a woman, don’t assume another woman is the best mentor.

Crystal: “Don’t assume that another woman will be the strong mentor you need in what has historically been a man’s industry. Find a mentor/role model that fits your personality.”

15. Look to the future, not the past.

Rod: “There is no point in dwelling upon the past. Plus, this future incarnation of yourself does not exist, for if I/we could really travel in time and tell you this, it would change your trajectory, and I would be something completely different. So, don’t dwell on your past. We are only as good as what we give out in the here and the now!!!”

16. Get an internship.

Sarah: “I would also get an internship. I totally did not take advantage of that.”

17. Look for the bright spots in a bad job.

Jodie: “Figure out what it is that you really love about what you love doing. If you’re unhappy in your job/career, knowing that piece might help you figure out what to do next.”

18. Education is key…

Pam: “I would say, don’t stop school until you get a Masters, and keep making ART no matter what anybody says.”

19. …But education doesn’t have to mean a four-year degree.

Paul O.: “I would have told me to not fake it through the motions of going to college and learn a trade, probably automotive.”

20. Always negotiate — even when you’re walking out the door.

Susan: “If you’re unhappy in a job, leave. But try to negotiate your exit to your advantage.”

21. Take your vacation time.

Paul L.: “No one ever made it to 86 and said, ‘Remember that awesome Tuesday in 2006 when I should’ve been on my vacation, but created that banner/gave that presentation/sent that Tweet and really impressed my boss instead!’ But you may well say, ‘That trip to Borneo was so amazing! Let’s go back!’

Tell Us What You Think

What advice would you give your younger self? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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