How to Set Yourself Up to Be Your Best Professional Self This Year

The last year changed a lot about how everyone works in their day-to-day lives. The office workplace culture went from conference room meetings to Zoom meetings and from coffee at the office sink (or at the coffee shop down the street) to coffee in your home office. Remote working is now all the rage, and might just be here to stay. And while everyone who's been working from home is trying to figure it all out, other businesses have gone on hiring freezes or closed their doors altogether. 

So, how does a young professional find the job of their dreams and set themselves up for professional success? Even more importantly right now, how do they do that in a year still full of so many challenges?  

Some people think that you have to follow a set of guidelines and rules to get a job and be professionally successful. However, as a (somewhat) recent college grad and someone who had a plan that fell through, I disagree. There’s no one-size-fits-all to job hunting and creating a life that makes you happy and fulfilled. 

No matter what someone else thinks you should be doing with your degree or career, here are three ways to set yourself up to have your best professional year yet.

  1. 1. Find what success looks like and means to you

    woman in front of a computer

    There’s a reason I don’t think everyone can follow the exact same method to find a job and create success for themselves. Success looks and feels different for everyone. Some people want a 9-to-5 job with a city view, others want a family, and some of us just want a job to pay the bills. The first step to creating a year of professional (or even personal) success starts with you figuring out what success means to you.

    If you don’t know what success means to you or how to figure it out, that’s okay! It’s not something you or I think about on a day-to-day basis. Luckily, there are people who are ready to help you figure it out. 

    One way to figure out what success looks like for you is to sit down and think about the things that you value. What do you want to spend your time doing? 

    “Being intentional each day and blocking out distractions will keep you focused and ultimately allow you to define success on your own terms,” says Tara Ackaway, CEO & Founder of Social Wise Communications. “Your happiness should be a priority and will greatly contribute to your overall success, whether it be personally or professionally.” 

    If you have an awesome job but aren’t feeling happy and successful in other parts of your life, then it may cause you to feel unhappy and unsuccessful in that part of your life as well. For most people, the different parts of your life have to find ways to mesh together and be harmonious with each other. I know that when I’m having a hard time with a family member, or I feel upset because of situations with friends, it impacts how I perform at, and feel about, my jobs. 

    So, if you find that professional success doesn’t matter as much as personal success for you, that’s totally fine! Sit down and write down the goals that you have personally so that you’re able to rock out this year. And, if you want to really dig deep into your professional success and how to make those dreams come true, it’s time to get to work. 

  2. 2. Plan accordingly and be prepared to set yourself apart

    woman using laptop

    Getting a job is no easy feat. Even before the pandemic, getting a job meant sending in application after application and creating a ton of resumes that were specific to each job you were applying for. But then COVID-19 happened. And, suddenly, it’s more difficult than ever before to figure out how to navigate the job market. 

    So, what do you need to do in order to land that job of your dreams when everyone else in your field is probably trying to get that same job? 

    The biggest piece of advice that I’ve seen from seasoned professionals during this time is to be adaptable. Your future employers want to see that you’re able to go with the flow, so to speak, and adapt to change. 

    “It would serve young professionals well to demonstrate a willingness and ability to adapt to change,” Jill Sammak, a Leadership and Career Coach, tells Her Campus. “The pandemic delivered an unwelcome truth: The world can be a very unpredictable place, and the trait that arms us best to respond to an uncertain future is flexibility.” 

    Sammak, who owns Jill Sammak Coaching and Consulting, LLC, adds, “While the pandemic has created a highly competitive job market, it also provides an opportunity for candidates to set themselves apart.” 

    There are several ways you can set yourself apart in this job market. One of the most popular suggestions that I’ve seen is to take some online courses to fill in the gaps on your resume. This may be a little time consuming, but it’s a time investment that’s going to be beneficial long-term. 

    “Technology skills are particularly important to have right now regardless of the field you are in or looking to pivot into,” Paul French, recruiter and Founder of Intrinsic Search, says. “From coding to digital marketing, sales to customer support, picking up a new skill will give you a competitive edge and bargaining power in the marketplace.” 

    French also suggests working on your personal branding. If you want to go into social media management or something similar, having a strong social media presence (that’s appropriate, of course) can make the difference between you and three other applicants. 

    If (and when) you do snag an interview, make sure to prepare. I've heard time and time again that one of the best ways to stand out from your competition is to show that you've researched the company and are excited about what the company does. Ask them questions about the job and the company. Use words from the job posting. Every detail can help you get that job. 

  3. 3. Don't be afraid of failure, mistakes or being told "no"

    overhead view of a woman sitting in front of her laptop

    While none of this advice is specific to life during a pandemic, it's especially important for you to remember no matter what's going on in the world.

    Don’t be afraid, embarrassed, or ashamed if you “fail” at something. 

    “Manage your expectations,” Kate Tudoreanu, a Career Coach, says. “The goals you set might not be accomplished perfectly. But part of the process is knowing failure isn’t the end. You can always learn something from the experience and use it to do even better the next time.” 

    Ana Benites, a 2019 graduate from Queens University of Charlotte says that not being afraid of failure or being told “no” is one of the best pieces of advice she’s ever gotten. 

    “It’s so easy to get discouraged during the job search,” Ana says. “You have to push through [each] ‘no’ [and remind] yourself that no one has ever learned anything by getting everything right the first time.” 

    Bottom line? You can’t expect to nail every interview and snag every job. However, you also can’t let every rejection bring you down and keep you from trying again. 

    I’ve always read about people sending cold emails to get internships, jobs, and informational interviews. And, despite the absolute fear that settled in the pit of my stomach each time, I eventually tried it for myself. I sent a few cold emails to marketing companies close to me to see if anyone was looking for a summer intern. If I remember correctly, I mostly got ignored, but there was one company that responded. I got an internship with them. 

    "It's important to be bold," says WayUp's CEO & Co-Founder, Liz Wessel. "Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big believer in cold-emailing people. I remember the way I got one summer internship was cold emailing an alumnus from my school...several emails and phone calls later, I got the internship!”

No matter which version of success matters to you (professional or personal) or whether you want a fancy job yet or not, just remember that no one can define your success but you. You’re the only person who gets to decide if you’re being fulfilled and are happy with what you’re doing.

Go for that job you think you have no chance of getting. Send that cold email or Linkedin message to the professional you admire and ask to talk about how they got to where they are. And, above all else, remember to believe in yourself and be kind when things don’t go to plan. You’re always learning new things and maybe success is knowing that mistakes happen when you actually take a chance on yourself. 

Make 2021 the year you take a chance on yourself and your success.

Follow Katie on Twitter