30 Smart Career Moves You Should Make by 30

Colleen Oakley

Top Skill-Building Moves for 20-Somethings

13. Sell something. Even if you never go into selling full-time, holding a sales position at some point in your career can teach you valuable life lessons. Kate McKeon, CEO of Prepwise, a test-prep and career-coaching firm, even suggests trying out a commission-only job to get the full experience. “It’s brutal to get rejected over and over, but you’ll learn to persevere—and you’ll figure out how to be successful,” McKeon says.

Besides, whether or not you realize it, you’re actually selling all the time. “You have to sell yourself to companies to get jobs—and peers and bosses to earn their respect and promotions,” she says. “Selling is all around us.”

14. Take an improv class. “It can develop your ability to listen more carefully, build on the ideas of others, solve problems creatively and get comfortable with risk—and even failure,” says Milo Shapiro, author of “Public Speaking: Get A’s, Not Zzzzzz’s!” “My improv years did as much to help me with my corporate job as my college training,” Shapiro says.

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15. Mind your (table) manners. “Many meetings take place over fine lunches and dinners, so it’s important to know the basics,” Elizaga says. Learn how to order graciously, which fork and knife to use, and bread plate etiquette. “Your comfort with the basics will ease nerves, as well as make you look polished,” she says. “If you don’t have these skills, it will stick out—and possibly be a negative in terms of interfacing with clients or employers.”

Be quick to work hard, but slow to form alliances with co-workers. The last thing you need is to be aligned with someone on their way out.

16. Learn basic HTML. Millennials get a lot of credit for being “digital natives,” but knowing merely how to browse the web, send email, use Twitter and upload videos doesn’t really mean much these days, says Aaron Black, assistant professor of management and business administration at Missouri Baptist University. “You don’t have to know how to write software or create a website from HTML, but you need to know enough to understand how programming works so you’re ahead of the curve.”

17. Get out of the country. Spending time abroad—even if it’s just personal travels—is good experience to have in an increasingly global economy. “When I speak to my 30-something friends, nearly all of them say they wish they had traveled before launching their professional careers,” says Chaz Pitts-Kyser, author of “Careeranista: The Woman’s Guide to Success After College.” “Through travel, you can gain an amazingly broad view of the world—and maybe even find new career opportunities.”

18. Adopt a cause you believe in. “[Volunteering] can help show trust and value to potential employers,” says Geiger, adding that it illustrates you care about something deeper than the daily grind. But don’t just team up with a nonprofit to meet people or because it looks good on your résumé. “Join one to help others first,” he says, “and make connections second.”

19. Be willing to invest in yourself. Your career is your biggest asset, so it will require some financial investment, says Eddy Ricci Jr., author of “The Growth Game: A Millennial’s Guide to Professional Development.” “Don’t be afraid to invest in a library of self-help career books, lunches and dinners with influential people, and ongoing courses to build a career bedrock.”

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Top On-the-Job Moves for 20-Somethings

20. Steer clear of office gossip. This is especially sage advice during the first six months at a new job, says Louise Jackson, a career coach in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Be quick to work hard, but slow to form alliances with co-workers,” she says. “Watch and listen for how stakes fall politically—the last thing you need is to be aligned with someone who is on their way out.”

21. Laugh at the boss’s jokes. Along those same political lines, you’re not going to love everyone you work with—and you’ll just have to deal. Of course, you don’t want to be the office kiss-up, “but bosses like to have their egos stroked,” says Dr. Lorenzo G. Flores, author of “Executive Career Advancement: How to Understand the Politics of Promotion.” “Plus, laughing at jokes is great for bonding and relationship-building.”

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  • Traci

    Sales is not for everybody, but Kate McKeon is absolutely right about holding a sales position for the sake of experience (and character building). It is challenging and will help people to develop many communication skills.

  • RCP

    Wonderful tips!