“You don’t need to know what you want to do forever. You need to know what you’d like to do NEXT.”
As an older millennial, let me tell you: the world of work has changed SO MUCH from what our parents’ advice may have led us to expect.
So we asked millennials in the BuzzFeed Community to share the biggest career lessons they’ve learned so far. Here’s what they had to say:
“You don’t need to know what you want to do forever. You need to know what you’d like to do NEXT. Forever is a long time and it puts you under so much pressure. Career planning is about gaining self-awareness, acceptance, and knowing your worth. Every element of your life and everything you’ve been through allows you to develop and grow both personally and professionally.”
“Different environments call for different responses. For example, some instances call for advocacy for meaningful change and standing up for your coworkers (especially for those who are being discriminated against or facing microaggressions). Other instances like small annoyances or workplace dramas are best ignored.”
“There are times when it is best to quit or move on if a workplace culture is detrimental to your mental health. Learning this balance of when to advocate, ignore, or quit is difficult, takes some time, and is different for everyone. Once I figured it out, it helped me create a more healthy work/life balance.”
“In my experience, owning up to your mistakes goes a long way with your managers and coworkers. It builds a good foundation of trust when you can take responsibility and not try to blame someone or something else. I’ve had great relationships with my managers just because I make a point to have open and honest communication with them and I don’t act like I’m perfect. I’m human. I screw up. I’ll do better next time 🤷🏻♀️.”
“Also, don’t engage in workplace drama. Your life will be better for it.”
“Experience is very important and it’s a lot of ‘who you know’. Don’t burn bridges — despite the desire to do so. You may need that annoying person in the future. And don’t do anything for free!”
“Keep a list of everything that happens, good and bad. When it comes time for your review, you will want to point to concrete examples of great things that you have done in the last year. Don’t assume that you’ll be able to come up with examples off the top of your head. There have been so many times where I go to reference my list (I keep it in an email draft in my personal email account) and forget about something I did that really made a difference to the company.”
“Same thing with when something goes poorly. I keep another list of all the times coworkers didn’t get something done or did it wrong. A few years ago I had to talk with my boss about one coworker who kept missing deadlines, and it was really helpful to reference specific examples with dates and details.”
“There is not a single job that you will ever do that is worth more than your family or your health. I’ve had jobs who wanted me to prioritize them over my dying mother. It doesn’t matter what you think you’re going to get out of it, like more money or connections in your industry. It’s not worth it. Always put your life before your job. Every job you have is temporary, but your family and your health are for the rest of your life.”
“They can ask for overtime but don’t feel like you have to do it. It’s not your fault that they didn’t staff properly. Don’t feel guilty about working your actual schedule.”
“Don’t listen to what anyone says about not being a job hopper, that’s only true up to a point. You’ll make more money if you switch companies every three to four years because you’ll usually be able to negotiate a higher salary with a new company than whatever raise you negotiate with your current company. And no, this doesn’t look bad on a résumé. Whoever is hiring you likely has done the same.”
“We, as a generation, grew up hearing that we can be anything and do whatever we want for a career — which is completely wrong. The world only needs so many astronauts and presidents and tech gurus. The chances of you being one of the people who get these jobs are slim to none. So, refocusing on realistic career milestones and satisfaction in the job you actually can get is much more beneficial for your mental well-being.”
“I’m an old millennial and my advice is to go where they pay you the most and has the most benefits. Always leave on good terms, but if you have to spend 40 hours a week somewhere, you might as well get as much as you can for it.”
“I’ve been in HR for 15 years and here’s my advice — never give your work more than they deserve, ie, working weekends, answering emails after 5 p.m., etc. You give your loyalty and they will fire you tomorrow and never think about you again. Keep work during work, and SHUT DOWN at the end of the day. They get you 40 hours a week, no more.”
“Say it forget it, write it regret it. Never use company laptops, phones, for anything personal. And don’t answer your emails or calls after hours. Do it once, and it’ll happen more and more often.”
“I’ve been a recruiter for 10 years and my number one piece of advice to women and minorities is: Negotiate when you get an offer, even when it’s a good one. The pay gap is real, and our culture has taught us to just be grateful instead of asking for what we want or deserve. Practice negotiating a salary talk with friends or family to get comfortable with it. Get paid what you’re worth!”
“Work-life balance is very important. Don’t work your life away. There are so many cool and interesting things to do and places to go, give yourself time to experience them! Burnout and stress from working too much can also do major damage to your body.”
“Understand how pay and raises work at your organization. Some companies have very strict rules about when and how they’ll promote you within a role. For example, the place I work only moves people into certain leadership roles after at least three years of managing others. In environments like this, you may need to leave to get a substantial bump in pay, regardless of how good your performance has been in your current job. Sticking around for years isn’t always worth it if you can get paid more for doing your same level of work at another company.”
“Document your processes and train everyone on your team how to do your job. Do not become indispensable in your role. If you can’t be easily replaced, you won’t be promoted.”
“Cater your resume to the job you want, not the job you’re doing. If you don’t highlight the skills that cross over to the job you want, you’ll have trouble getting people to see you for more than the job title you have.”
“When leaving a job for a new one, try to give yourself a gap week, so you don’t burn out. Odds are you either won’t be able to or won’t feel comfortable taking time off from your new job for at least a few months, so it’s good to take a few days rest between those jobs if you can afford it.
If your industry is kind of small and you plan on sticking with the same kind of employer, do not burn bridges. You never know who you might end up working with again. I’m so glad that I left my last job on good terms, because I ended up working with some of those people again at my new job less than a year later.”
“Nothing is more important than finding good mentors and having champions. Mentors help you figure out how to move up, move on, or move into better or more interesting work faster. And you need champions to stand up for you in decisions you make and when time comes for promotions, etc. Mentors and champions can be the same person but don’t need to be, if, for example, you have mentors that don’t work at the same organization. But the more you have of each the better!”
“If your employer doesn’t value respect, kindness, and consideration, QUIT THAT JOB. I literally quit my job yesterday because the owner was rude and belittling. Value your peace over EVERYTHING, even money.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask for a raise. It can be an uncomfortable topic to bring up, but no one else will advocate for you as hard as YOU will. Just last month I had a sit-down with my boss to ask for a raise and she ended up offering me a promotion. The wage increase was definitely worth the awkward conversation! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth!”
“The employees hold all the power. Businesses make money when employees do the work, and that includes EVERYONE (for instance, imagine most public places without anyone to clean them). Time to stop acting like we’re thankful to them for hiring us. It’s their turn to thank us. And pay us enough to pay back the student loans they require, because if it’s something THEY need for us to do the work, that’s their loan, not ours.”
“There’s no such thing as a perfect job. I truly love my job and am passionate about the company, but there’s definitely aspects I don’t like that frustrate me. That’s why it’s called WORK.”
“Unless you’re truly passionate about what you do, your job is not going to be the most fulfilling part of your life. If your job sucks out your soul and leaves you with nothing left, get a new one. Your time and energy is better spent on the the people and things that fill you up and make you feel whole.”
“I learned that it’s okay to ‘sell out.’ I took a huge pay cut for my dream job, and truly loved it, but I realized that my financial future would be forever changed by staying. I ended up returning to my (perfectly fine) previous job, where I have money to plan for the future and enjoy life now. Sometimes life is healthier and happier when your passion is your hobby.”
“You do not have friends who are coworkers; you have *friendly* coworkers. The people you work with are not your friends. Keep a line between your work life and your personal life. There are people out there who will use personal information to undermine you at work.”
“Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that you might not be qualified for. Job descriptions always sound more intense than they really are and the worst thing that can happen is that they say no. The last time I was applying for jobs I used apps like Glassdoor to help me figure out if the pay range was even worth it. It really helped because every company can be different on jobs with the terms assistant, associate, or analyst. One place might have analyst type positions higher up, but at another place it might be entry level.”
“Good work ethic beats degrees or qualifications once you are in a job. Hard workers are hard to come by. A good work ethic will take you further than people who are supposedly more experienced or qualified than you.”
“Your job doesn’t care about you. You may find coworkers and even bosses that you get along with, but the sooner you recognize that at a corporate level, you are interchangeable to your company, the healthier your relationship with your job will be. Take your time off. Know your rights as a worker. Don’t prioritize your job over your mental, physical, or emotional wealth. You are more than your job or career.”
And finally, “Your relationship with work will change, and it’s important to recognize where you are at any moment. Sometimes you want to push hard and accelerate— and sometimes you need to just keep it on the rails so you can focus on other things in your life. Make sure what you’re saying ‘yes’ to and your level of effort is reflective of where you want to spend energy. And make sure it’s a conversation you’re having with yourself every month or so.”
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.
What other career lessons have you been learning? Share your biggest “a-ha” moments in the comments!
And for more stories about work and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.