Many people know that a college education gives you the best odds of working your way up the career ladder. Yet, on average, students need an average of 52 months (or more) to earn a bachelor’s degree and end up in debt between college and the post-graduation job search because they haven’t taken the necessary steps to cultivate habits that will set them up for success. Whether you’re just starting your college journey or about to enter the workforce, here’s how you can set yourself up for career success without breaking the bank.
Get Your Degree
The first step toward any career is obtaining the necessary credentials. In most cases, this means you’ll need to get some sort of college degree. For most entry-level jobs, you will need a bachelor’s degree in your chosen field from an accredited institution. In some cases, though, you may even need a master’s level degree (or higher). Unfortunately, college is quite expensive these days, and tuition rates will only continue to climb along with inflation. However, you don’t have to go to an Ivy League school just to pursue your dream job — so don’t feel bad about settling for a state school that offers scholarships or lower tuition rates. This can save you tens of thousands of dollars, which you’ll be thankful for in the years after graduation when you’re working your way up the career ladder.
Also, don’t be afraid to consider all your options when it comes to paying for school. The FAFSA can help you determine what grants and school loans you qualify for, and then you can look into options for paying the rest. In many cases, students do a combination of working a part-time job and taking out student loans as ways to pay for college. Working part-time can help offset some of the costs, while student loans can provide you with additional funds that you don’t have to start paying off until you earn your degree and land your first job. Just remember to always compare interest rates and avoid loans that seem too good to be true.
Master Time Management Skills
Excellent time management skills are a must for any college student, but not many of them master this critical life skill well enough for it to lead to career success. The modern workplace requires outstanding time management skills though, especially for those who work remotely. The key to time management is proper planning and execution, which you can achieve through time blocking. Time blocking forces you to map out your entire day or week and schedule each task you need to do into its block of time. This not only helps you make sure you set aside time for everything on your to-do list, but it also helps you maintain focus on a single task at a time.
Multitasking hinders productivity because it causes gaps in your attention. Therefore, one of the best habits you can learn is how to focus your attention on just one item at a time. Time blocking can help you achieve this, as can the Pomodoro method, which encourages you to focus for a short burst of time, then take a small break to refocus your brain. Of course, if you're still having trouble focusing and managing your time, you can always enlist the help of technology. There are dozens of great time management apps out there to help you stay on top of things in your personal and professional life.
Learn How to Network
When people say things like, “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” they are talking about networking. Networking is how you connect with other like-minded professionals, either through direct work experience or through mingling at industry events. Even though many companies are now working in fully remote or hybrid settings, professional networking can still help you boost your career and gain clout within your chosen industry. The more you network, the more comfortable you will feel talking to noted experts in your chosen industry. This newly found confidence can help you during the interview process and beyond, especially if you use your elevated self-esteem to talk to people within the company who can help you out when it comes time for a promotion.
Additionally, connecting with one person can help open you up to an entire group of people within your industry. This can turn into job opportunities, professional references, and more. You never know when someone you met at a conference during your internship may “know a guy” hiring for a position you want. In other words, small talk and a bit of putting yourself out there can pay off in big ways as you begin your career — and most of the time it doesn’t cost you a single penny.
Many young adults make simple financial mistakes during and after college that cost them money and wreck their credit score. However, learning how to live within your means and stick to a budget will help you financially and give you a leg up on the competition within your chosen career field. This will ultimately set you up for both personal and professional success. Budgeting forces you to take a hard look at how your expenses line up with the income you're bringing in. It also helps you see areas where you can cut back or adjust to make sure you have enough money to cover your basic needs.
Most importantly, though, budgeting pushes you to think about your long-term plans so that you can set aside money for those plans. There are many times when the same tools you use to make a personal budget will prove beneficial in the workplace. You may need to manage your department's finances, or you just may need to know how to evaluate two different options to decide which one is in the company's best interest to pursue. Regardless, these are all skills that management-level staff needs, so building on these skills early on will start you off on the right foot in your career.
Career success does not come easy, but by following the tips above and staying mindful of your career goals, you can set yourself up for a bright future. Just remember to take things one step at a time, network whenever possible, and always keep an eye on your finances. By doing so, you'll be well on your way to career success in no time.