Career Advice For My Younger Self: What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20


Being 20 now is a lot of school and fun, and career doesn’t always make sense. Heck, you may not have even identified what exactly you want to be doing after school so there’s little or no prepping, physically and mentally for the career world.

I was fortunate enough to have completed my tertiary education at a very young age. It has afforded me the opportunity to gain much more work experience than most people my age. Looking back I can identify a number of lessons I learned which significantly affected my career in a positive way. Some of these lessons I wish I knew when I was 20 have been outlined below.

1. Your priority should be ‘experience’ not ‘money’

When applying for a job at the beginning of your career you should be more concerned about the kind of experience you can gain with a company than with the size of the salary. Salaries are temporary, but work experience with well-established companies will add value to your CV for your entire work life.

In a situation where you have to choose between two job offers, go for the one which will give you better exposure even if the salary is lower. Note however that this is in situations where the salary is not significantly lower. In the end, the better experience will lead to other employers offering you bigger salaries in the future to come work for them.

2. When changing jobs apply for similar roles

There are times when moving on to other jobs become inevitable. It could be due to you changing your place of residence, not seeing progress in your career, or simply wanting a change in environment. Whatever your reason may be, you should never make a sharp deviation in your career path.

In order for your experience to accumulate relevantly, you need to stick to similar work roles. For instance, if your first job was in banking it would be wiser to stick to banking in your next job rather than switching to real estate or another different field, all other things being equal. You’ll get better at what you do and employers will be more convinced of your experience and capabilities when hiring you.

3. At job interviews ask questions on areas you’re not clear on

When you go for a job interview, don’t leave all the interrogation to the interviewer. Employers ask questions because they want the best deal for themselves. You also, have got to look out for yourself by asking probing questions about the company, what your growth in the company will look like in a number of years, what they expect of you, etc.

If you are not clear in your mind about certain points go ahead and ask at the interview, because it will be pretty much more difficult to pose tough questions after you have already been employed.

4. Sign a contract before you start working

Make sure every promise made to you by your employer goes on paper before you start working. If your employer doesn’t live up to his/her part of the deal you can only seek legal action if there’s a contract capturing the promises.

You should ensure that the contract includes your conditions of service, salary structure, spells out and defines your roles clearly.

5. Set boundaries Early

One thing I learned is that the kind of relationship you will have with your employer throughout your entire contract is determined in the early days of your work life. Don’t start compromising too early in work related matters else it is going to become the norm.

Right from your first days at work let your employer know when a line has been crossed. Surprisingly this ensures mutual respect in most cases and sets a good standard to follow in subsequent matters. After the boundaries have been clearly set, you can now compromise occasionally without giving the wrong impression.

6. Employment does not Always come from Job Listing Sites or Ads

Potential employers are everywhere. You’ll be surprised at the number of opportunities outside job listing sites, newspapers, or ads. Employment can come from anywhere; from meeting people in the streets to Facebook, LinkedIn, and other unconventional means.

This is why it is important to always look presentable physically—an advice my dad hammered into me during my early years in college. Also take your social media accounts seriously. You’ll never know where your next big gig is coming from.

7. Build Reputation in Terms of  Virtue

My first job offer, right after national service, was given by a ‘virtual’ employer on LinkedIn. Virtual because neither the employer nor I got to have a physical meeting. Communication was mostly via email, sms, and chat.

But what made me, just another Economics graduate (who hated Economics by the way), land a writing job many and better writers would have been qualified for with an Advertising company? Honesty, integrity, dedication, service and eagerness to work. And till now I am almost certain I have kept these traits.

Back then I had no experience in that field. Those qualities were all I had to build the future I wanted for myself and it took a virtual employer to give me the opportunity to prove myself. Even though I left the job after a few months, my relationship with this employer has never wavered.

Employers want to work with people they can trust, especially with little. Because when you become a good steward of the little you are given, it paves way for you to become a steward of bigger and better things.

You may be 20 now and probably in college, I hope you can learn a thing or two from this. If you’re already out of college and hustling your way to the top, you should know that the working life is a learning process. Take pride in wherever you have found yourself, but do not ever stop working on becoming a better version of who you were. The quicker you learn to fill your current position, the happier you will be.

Photo Credit : Otopea Dwamena

Photographer : Roger Yebuah

Location : La Villa Boutique Hotel Osu