7 Pieces of Career Advice for People in Their 20s
Most people end up working in jobs that they’re not super excited about. They drag themselves out of bed everyday, put in their 8 hours, and stare at the clock until 5:01. The truth is, this isn’t always a bad thing. It’s okay to have a job that’s just a “job” if that’s your thing. But some of us need something more than that. Some of us want to be able to jump out of bed everyday, feeling excited. We want to be able to do work that helps people, and make a real impact. We want to be able to handle more responsibility without “paying our dues” for 30 years. We want to feel like we’re doing better compared to everybody else around us.
Nowadays, it is possible to land your dream job faster than you’re “supposed” to. Even if you’re not sure what you want to do yet. Even if you feel under qualified, or don’t think you have the “right” experience. You just need the right mindset. Here’s what top performers understand about building a remarkable career that most people don’t:
1. You don’t have to “work your way up.”
“You don’t have to go through point B anymore if you want to go from A to C.” — Daniel DiPiazza. Nina Mufleh wanted a job as a marketer at Airbnb. But she knew that thousands of other people did too. When most people look for jobs, they sit back, send their resume out online, and cross their fingers hoping for the best. And when they don’t hear back, they send out even more resumes until they eventually get demoralized with all the rejections.
Nina took a different approach. Instead of spamming out resumes or doing “directionless networking” to land a new job like everyone else, she decided to prove to Airbnb that she’d be the perfect fit. She created Nina4Airbnb.com.
She put together an entire site with suggestions on how Airbnb could expand to the Middle East. Since she was applying for a marketing role, she created some market strategy suggestions. And then she sent it to the CEO through Twitter. She got an interview instantly.
Nina did what I call a pre-interview project. Instead of just telling employers that she could do the job through a resume or a cover letter, she showed them. And because of that, she was able to skip the line past all the other candidates without meeting all the job “requirements.”
If you can prove to companies that you can solve their problems, you instantly decommoditize yourself, and what’s on paper doesn’t matter as much. You can “shortcut” your way to the job of your dreams. For example, if you’re applying for a sales/marketing role, a good pre-interview project could be selling some of the company’s products and writing a document about it.
If you’re applying for a design related role, you can mockup some new designs for the company and tell them why you made those decisions. Or it could be as easy as pitching a few suggestions about how you could help, like Nina did.
A few years ago, I applied for a product design position at Quora. Instead of just submitting my resume and portfolio, I ran a usability test on their mobile app. I mocked up some design suggestions, and sent it to their head of product design. He got back to me the same day to schedule an interview.
A few months ago, when I was applying for a job at a marketing agency, I pitched a few ideas to the CEO. I got an interview immediately.
Employers are starving for more people who are proactive and take initiative because practically no one does it.
That’s how you can instantly separate yourself from everybody else — even if you feel like you’re not as “qualified” as the other candidates.
2. You don’t know what you want to do? Good. Use it to your advantage.
Most people assume that not knowing what you want to do in life is a huge negative. Not true. In fact, being absolutely certain about what you want is the actual disadvantage. Kodak “knew” that they wanted to be the best producers of film-based cameras. They went out of business.
There are aspiring actors and actresses in LA who get offers to be on TV shows, but they turn them down because they “know” they want to be movie stars. 99.9% of them will never make it.
There are startup founders who have to shut down their businesses everyday because they “knew” they wanted to chase a multi-million dollar exit — even though most of them could’ve had a great life with a $100k / year lifestyle business.
If you don’t know what you want to do yet, you have the greatest advantage of all — you get to be curious.
You get to discover things that other people might not know because they have tunnel vision. You get to be a little kid again and explore.
3. The real winners never go through the “front door.”
“[All highly successful people] treat life, business, and success… just like a nightclub. There are always three ways in. There’s the First Door, where 99% of people wait in line,hoping to get in. There’s the Second Door, where billionaires and royalty slip through. But then there is always, always… the Third Door. It’s the entrance where you have to jump out of line, run down the alley, climb over the dumpster, bang on the door a hundred times, crack open the window, and sneak through kitchen. But there’s always a way in.
Whether it’s how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software, or how Steven Spielberg became the youngest director at a major studio in Hollywood — they all took the Third Door.
Think about it.
If you’re applying for your dream job, then chances are you’re competing against a lot of other really good, really smart people. You’re not going to beat them by taking the exact same approach as them. Part of the reason pre-interview projects work so well when it comes to separating yourself from everyone else is that you’re giving companies what they want before they have to ask for it.
4. Always take mentorship over money.
“If you’re early on in your career and they give you a choice between a great mentor or higher pay, take the mentor every time. It’s not even close. And don’t even think about leaving that mentor until your learning curve peaks.
There’s just nothing to me so invaluable in my business, but in many businesses, as great mentors. And a lot of kids are just too short-sighted in terms of going for the short-term money instead of preparing themselves for the longer term.” — Stanley Druckenmiller
Finding a mentor is the closest thing to a “shorcut” to success. What I learned in school pales in comparison to what I learned from my mentors. Great mentors will help you avoid months or even years of wasted time and effort by gently guiding you away from mistakes that you’re about to make.
People who are in a position to be mentors also have powerful connections at all the right companies, which means you can get your resume on top of the pile when you apply for a new job. Or better yet, they can tell you what companies not to work for.
A while ago I was considering working for someone, and one of my mentors (a well known figure in Silicon Valley) told me I shouldn’t. That one email probably saved me years of time and effort.
5. Taking the long way is the shortcut.
A while ago, bestselling author Neil Strauss did an AMA on Reddit. I took the opportunity to ask him what mistakes most people make in their 20s when they’re first getting started. This is what he said: “Impatience. With others, with the career, and with themselves.” When we’re young, we always want success now. We want to be able to show off to our friends. We want to be able to go back to our class reunion and be the most successful person there. We want to be one of those people who had a lot of success at a young age.
We’re looking for the “magic bullet” that’ll get us there faster than everyone else. Once we get there, then we’ll be fine — then we’ll be happy forever. Right? The reason so many of us value the destination more than the journey is because we use the destination to justify our self worth. We use money, fame, and validation from other people to convince ourselves that we’re good people. That’s part of the reason why it’s so hard for most people to be patient — because deferring success means they’re deferring their own validation. And in pursuit of shortcuts, people make mistakes that cost them dearly. Or they wait for the perfect “moment” to fall out of the sky to actually do what they want to do — staying stagnant for years. Eventually, people realize that the long way was the shortcut the whole time. And that the long way is where the fulfillment actually is.
6. Focus is the most underrated skill.
Over the next couple of decades, people who can focus on one thing for a long period of time will have a distinct advantage over everybody else. Distracting yourself with random, easy-to-do activities doesn’t just hurt your productivity. It also hurts your ability to learn a skillset that’s actually valuable. Top performers spend most of their time doing deliberate practice. They read books about what they do, and try to implement what they learned on the job. They seek out “safe” ways to make mistakes so they can test out what they learned. Staying focused on something long enough to get good at it won’t just make you more successful — it’ll make you more satisfied.
7. Passion follows hard work, not the other way around.
“Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.” — Cal Newport
Once you realize you’re good at something, you’ll become passionate about it. But the reality is, getting good at something is hard. You’ll go through periods where you realize you suck. You’ll go through points where you don’t feel like working. It sucks having writer’s block and still having to write. It sucks trying to debug code for hours and you still can’t figure out what’s wrong. That’s okay. Working hard is supposed to get boring sometimes. In fact, it’s impossible to focus on one thing for a long period of time without feeling bored at some point.
Once you get really good at what you do, you’ll see the impact you’re having. You’ll see the value you’re actually creating. You’ll feel that deep sense of accomplishment that comes after doing something that was hard, but worth it.
And that will become your passion.