Career Advice for Job Seekers

How to advance your career after you get hired for your first, professional job

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Anita Jobb AvatarAnita Jobb
April 8, 2024

So, you’ve received and accepted an offer of employment for your first, professional job. Congratulations!

At this point, you’re likely mostly excited and probably a little nervous about that job. That excitement and your nerves are natural and nothing to be suppressed. They’re likely simply a reflection of the uncertainties you’re now facing regarding the job, including what you should do after you start to help ensure your success in this and future roles.

We reached out to 20 career experts to ask them what actionable steps or strategies they recommend to early-career professionals to continue their growth and advancement after they land their first job:

  • Expand Skill Set and Tackle Projects
  • Initiate Sit-Downs with Management
  • Find a Mentor and Embrace New Tasks
  • Dive into Trends and Network
  • Embrace Challenges for Growth
  • Seek Mentorship and Network
  • Engage in Cross-Functional Projects
  • Learn Project Management Techniques
  • Adopt a Growth Mindset
  • Stay Updated with Industry Trends
  • Build a Robust Professional Network
  • Become an Intrapreneur
  • Seek Feedback Regularly
  • Prioritize Continual Learning and Networking
  • Cultivate a Specialty Within Your Field
  • Establish a Strong Foundation
  • Set Specific Career Goals
  • Employ Coaches for Career Reflection
  • Take Performance Reviews Seriously
  • Develop Crucial Soft Skills

Expand Skill Set and Tackle Projects

Professional growth is crucial for anyone seeking career advancement. If you’re just starting out and are hoping to be a top competitor in your field, expanding your skill set is of the essence! Some excellent ways to develop new skills include participating in leadership or professional development programs, earning certifications, and learning new software. 

However, skill building doesn’t only need to involve activities that look good on paper. Consider inquiring about taking on challenging projects at your current job to gain experience and explore possible new pathways. Target a specific skill you’re trying to learn and think of a way that it can apply to your role, and then do so (asking permission from your manager if necessary). No matter how you wish to proceed, putting in the effort to build your skills will show your current and future employers that you’re passionate about advancing in your field.

Sophie Labbee, Marketing Coordinator, Achievable

Initiate Sit-Downs with Management

I’ve always found that initiating sit-downs with management and stakeholders early on in your tenure is essential! Don’t wait for them to come to you; ask for a meeting and let them know you’re interested in learning. Show your management team that you are an advocate for them and open to feedback. In building these relationships, I’ve noticed that I build trust and opportunities always come my way—because I adopted a relationship-first approach, not a transactional one.

Matthew Sanjari, Founder and Business Coach, PRIME Consulting

Find a Mentor and Embrace New Tasks

For early-career professionals who want to keep the momentum going, I’d suggest two key moves. First, find yourself a mentor. Someone who’s been around the block and can offer guidance tailored to your industry and ambitions. They can offer you wisdom and insight that can help you navigate challenges and seize opportunities you might not have spotted on your own. 

Second, don’t run away from taking on fresh tasks or responsibilities. It can indeed be nerve-wracking to step out of your comfort zone, but that’s where growth happens. Embrace the chance to learn new skills and broaden your horizons—it’s all part of the journey toward becoming the pro you aspire to be.

Johannes Larsson, Founder and CEO,

Dive into Trends and Network

Landing that first job marks the start of a thrilling journey, not the finish line. For those early in their careers eager to climb higher, continuous learning is key. Dive into the latest trends and technologies relevant to your field, like I did with programming and blockchain. Networking, both online and in-person, can unlock doors you didn’t even know existed. Additionally, volunteering for new projects can showcase your versatility and commitment. Remember, the skills and relationships you build now will be the foundation of your career’s future growth.

David Wilfong, Founder and CEO, DavidWilfong

Embrace Challenges for Growth

Taking on challenges is crucial for early-career professionals to continue growing and advancing in their careers. By stepping outside of their comfort zones, individuals can develop new skills, expand their knowledge, and gain valuable experience that sets them apart from their peers. Challenges provide opportunities to demonstrate initiative, problem-solving abilities, and resilience, all of which are highly valued by employers. Furthermore, overcoming challenges improves confidence and a sense of accomplishment, leading to further personal and professional growth. Embracing challenges is key to staying relevant, adaptable, and competitive in today’s competitive job market.

Michael Ashley, Founder & Business Expert, Ashley Insights

Seek Mentorship and Network

To accelerate growth and advancement early in your career, actively seeking a mentor within your field is paramount. Identifying a mentor involves finding someone whose career trajectory inspires you and respectfully requesting their guidance.

Effective mentorship relationships are characterized by regular, structured meetings where you can discuss career aspirations, challenges, and seek advice. It’s important to approach these relationships with specific goals in mind and to be prepared to act on the guidance provided.

Additionally, a mentor can facilitate networking opportunities by introducing you to other professionals in your field, further expanding your professional circle, and opening up new avenues for career development.

Hardy Desai, Founder, Supple Digital

Engage in Cross-Functional Projects

An effective strategy I recommend for early-career professionals is to actively engage in cross-functional team projects. Working with colleagues from different departments not only broadens your understanding of the business but also exposes you to new skills and perspectives. 

This experience can enhance your problem-solving abilities and foster a more collaborative work ethic. Proactively seeking out these opportunities demonstrates your willingness to learn and adapt, qualities highly valued by employers. 

Furthermore, these projects can significantly expand your internal network, providing you with allies and advocates across the organization, which can be instrumental in your career progression.

Grant Aldrich, Founder, Preppy

Learn Project Management Techniques

Leveraging project management tools and techniques, even in roles that aren’t explicitly labeled as ‘project management,’ is a strategy I find incredibly useful. Familiarizing yourself with methodologies like Agile or Scrum can improve your efficiency and effectiveness in managing tasks and collaborating with teams.

This knowledge not only makes you more adaptable but also prepares you for a wider range of roles within your industry. Employers value professionals who can bring structure and clarity to complex projects, making this a desirable skill set for career advancement.

Phil Strazzulla, Founder, SelectSoftware Reviews

Adopt a Growth Mindset

To foster continuous growth after landing your first job, embracing a “growth mindset” is crucial. This approach involves viewing challenges as opportunities to learn rather than insurmountable obstacles. 

I recommend actively seeking tasks that push you slightly out of your comfort zone, as these experiences are where significant growth occurs. Documenting these challenges, your strategies for tackling them, and the outcomes can serve as a roadmap for personal and professional development. 

Furthermore, sharing these experiences in discussions with mentors or peers can provide additional insights and reinforce your learning. A growth mindset encourages resilience and adaptability—qualities that are invaluable in today’s rapidly changing professional landscape.

Ananvita Bhattacharya, Owner, WellnessZing

Stay Updated with Industry Trends

For early-career professionals, I suggest staying updated with industry trends through online courses and workshops tailored to your career goals. Try to showcase your expertise through a blog, portfolio site, or an active social media presence to stand out in the marketplace, and welcome constructive criticism and seek guidance from experienced professionals to accelerate your growth. Embrace innovation and experiment with new ideas, and take calculated risks to foster creativity and problem-solving skills. Through this, you pave the way for a successful journey in content creation and digital marketing, setting the stage for continuous advancement and achievement.

Shawn Manaher, Founder, The Content Authority

Build a Robust Professional Network

Building a robust professional network is a strategic step that cannot be overstated for early-career professionals. Participating in industry-specific events and online forums provides valuable opportunities to connect with seasoned experts and peers alike. Leveraging platforms like LinkedIn to engage with content relevant to your field and share your own insights fosters professional relationships that can lead to mentorship, collaboration, and job opportunities.

Effective networking is about more than just collecting contacts; it’s about cultivating meaningful relationships and offering value to others. Demonstrating genuine interest in others’ success and sharing knowledge freely can establish you as a respected member of your professional community, opening doors to growth and advancement.

Jim Pendergast, Senior Vice President, altLINE Sobanco

Become an Intrapreneur

Embrace the role of an intrapreneur and go the extra mile. Here’s the thing: An employee focused on company growth won’t be quick to promote you if you’re only meeting the basic requirements of your job. Even if you’re doing really good work, if it’s all within the confines of your job description, it probably means you’re not being proactive enough. No successful company is built by people who just follow their everyday tasks. To truly make a difference, you need to put in extra effort and contribute more.

In my experience, being an intrapreneur is exciting. It allows you to take risks, come up with innovative ideas, implement effective solutions, and make significant changes to how you and your team operate. This approach not only leads to meaningful impact but also brings immense personal satisfaction from having made a difference. Think like an entrepreneur while enjoying the stability of the company you’re in. There’s really nothing to lose.

Henry Brook, Founder, The Page

Seek Feedback Regularly

A crucial strategy for early-career professionals aiming for growth and advancement is to actively seek feedback regularly. It involves soliciting constructive feedback from supervisors, peers, and even subordinates to gain insights into your performance, strengths, and areas for improvement.

Embracing feedback opens opportunities for personal and professional development, helping you identify skills that need sharpening and achievements you can build on. Implementing the feedback in your work accelerates your learning curve and demonstrates your commitment to continuous improvement, an essential characteristic for career advancement.

Nuria Requena, Talent Acquisition Manager, Spacelift

Prioritize Continual Learning and Networking

Early-career workers should prioritize continual learning and skill development to advance in their professions. Networking both inside and outside their organization can provide valuable mentorship and opportunities for advancement. Seeking input from bosses and peers helps uncover areas for growth. Setting defined goals and constantly monitoring progress ensures focus and direction. Additionally, remaining current on industry developments through reading, attending seminars, and seeking relevant certifications boosts professional expertise and marketability.

Andy McKenna, Owner & Managing Director, Best Reception

Cultivate a Specialty Within Your Field

Cultivating a specialty within your field can transform you into an indispensable asset to your organization and industry. Dedicating time to mastering a niche area not only sets you apart from your peers but also increases your value to employers looking for experts in specific domains. By becoming the go-to person for this specialty, you open up new opportunities for career advancement and leadership roles. This deep dive into a particular aspect of your field demonstrates a high level of commitment and passion, qualities that are highly attractive to current and prospective employers alike.

Bert Hofhuis, Founder, Every Investor

Establish a Strong Foundation

Use your first job to establish a strong foundation. Do not rush into new things too quickly. It might seem like a given, but it’s worth emphasizing: Work hard! Creating a positive first impression on your initial team is crucial. As someone who has recently graduated, you can compensate for a lack of experience by showing your team and company that you’re diligent and committed. Aim to be the earliest person in the office, or volunteer for additional projects that others might avoid.

Focus on laying down a solid base and comprehending the subtleties of your work. Develop your expertise and become proficient in your existing skill set. Once you’re confident in your knowledge, start exploring new areas. Gradually expand your skills by taking on something new, which might be related or unrelated to your current expertise.

Paw Vej, Chief Operating Officer,

Set Specific Career Goals

Set a goal you want to achieve in your first job. This will act as your goalpost and motivate you to keep moving forward in your journey with a purpose, preventing you from going about aimlessly. Make your goal as specific as you can, so that you have a clear vision of what you’re working towards. Whether it’s earning a target amount, getting promoted to a specific position, or staying for a minimum of a year, zero in on the specifics of your goal.

Cyrus Partow, Founder,

Employ Coaches for Career Reflection

I recommend employing coaches for reflecting on challenges and managing transitions in your early-career stage. If you’re progressing quickly in your early career (or if you’re encountering difficulties in gaining momentum), it’s beneficial to have a coach to assist you in understanding what’s occurring and how to proceed when you face a standstill. Coaches play a pivotal role—it’s almost unfeasible to locate someone from your network of friends, family, or colleagues who can pose challenging questions impartially.

Executive or leadership coaching, when effectively implemented, isn’t merely about a more seasoned executive dictating different actions. In reality, a proficient coach predominantly listens and poses timely inquiries to aid in your reflection on your management strategies and career objectives.

Getting your employer to finance a coach is ideal. However, I maintain that if you can secure an affordable professional coach, it’s still worthwhile to invest in it yourself, considering the time and effort it will conserve by equipping you with the tools for making firmer decisions early in your career. It’s also crucial to understand that coaches are not only useful in navigating tough decisions but also in pursuing rapid career advancement or in preparation for a promotion to a higher level.

Antoinette Jackson, Creative Director & Founder, SuperBee

Take Performance Reviews Seriously

A really important step is to take performance reviews seriously. Formal performance reviews can be extremely helpful for both the employer and the employee, but only if they are given proper attention. Often, annual and mid-year reviews are overlooked, hastily completed, and filled with inadequately considered feedback.

Performance reviews provide a great opportunity for employers to inform employees about how they are meeting or not meeting expectations, which is beneficial for both sides. For those in the early stages of their careers, these reviews are an effective way to communicate your aspirations for professional growth. Once your employer or supervisor is aware of your specific goals, you can collaborate to develop a strategy that helps you achieve them, whether it’s acquiring new skills, gaining different experiences, or something else.

If your employer doesn’t typically conduct regular reviews, it might be worth asking if they would consider implementing such a process. In cases where there is a review system in place but it’s not consistently adhered to, don’t hesitate to take the initiative to remind them.

Amy Tribe, Director, OGLF (Our Good Living Formula)

Develop Crucial Soft Skills

Developing your soft skills is crucial for early-career professionals, as it offers a range of benefits that contribute significantly to their growth and advancement in the workplace. Soft skills such as empathy, cooperation, and the ability to work well with others contribute to a positive team dynamic and can make your experience in any position that much better. 

Soft skills like leadership, decision-making, and problem-solving contribute to your ability to take on leadership roles. Demonstrating leadership potential can lead to increased responsibilities and career advancement, and is something that can also help you with increasing confidence as you continue to grow.

It helps to request feedback from colleagues, supervisors, or mentors regarding your soft skills, and use constructive feedback as a tool for improvement. Also, volunteer for group projects to enhance your teamwork skills and learn to appreciate and leverage the strengths of your team members.

Meghan Freed, Managing Co-Partner, Freed Marcroft

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