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How to build a successful career as a young adult from these 3 key lessons learned

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

I remembered the days as a student. Back then, there isn’t any LinkedIn to identify job opportunities. Neither were there any Career Centres in schools.

The best mentors I had were my friends who randomly dished out well-meaning advice.

That’s what I thought.

I didn’t have any purpose in my career.

“Go get a job. Any job that’s able to pay you a decent salary. Money ruled all."

Ok, I got it!

With my Diploma in Marketing credential, I sent out a dozen of applications focusing on entry-level roles.

It doesn’t matter the type of job.

Count it as sheer luck.

I landed in a position as an Education Counsellor. The scope was to help individuals choose the right type of studies in Australia.

Postgraduate, undergraduate, certification programs or culinary schools – you name it, they had it all in Australia.

It was on-the-job training for me.

Tough in the beginning since this was all new to me. I didn’t know what to say if someone threw a career question at me.

I was only 26 years old.

Interestingly, I was fixated at how my colleague possessed the ability to actively listen and confidently answered them.

Very consultative manner, never imposing views.

I also found the thinking process fascinating from our customers.

Why would they advance their studies in medicine just because their mum says so?

Is it not possible to make a decision on your own?

Yeah! I was curious about people and their way of processing information.

So, I was always enthusiastically taking on cases - anyone who walked into our center, inquiring about further studies in Australia.

I gained first-hand experience in diagnosing career-study situations.

Questions posed to me “what would be my career prospects if I graduate as an Engineer?”

I began to research and read deeper into career development theories and education prospectus. That equipped me with knowledge.

What I didn’t know was something that made me marketable in my future career pathway.

I have acquired the basic foundation of soft skills through listening, paraphrasing and summarizing through the numerous 1-1 sessions with customers.

Key Takeaway #1

You are on an exciting journey of discovery. Find out the type of tasks that you enjoy doing through your first job.

Continue doing them - and if you simply like what you do, your skills will shine through.

Write these skills on a piece of paper. Keep them with you.

Can I do more in my career?

I was still hired as an Education Counsellor. One fine day, I was talking to my friends who had the idea of working overseas.

He sounded like it was a golden ticket to career success.

Initially, it was just plain chit-chat, like you see a bunch of friends talking at McDonald’s.

However, to me, I felt there was much more to explore beyond Singapore.

My friend could be right.

I needed to develop a broader horizon.

But there was no way I could work in another country.

What if there was an opportunity instead to use my soft skills, able to travel and get to know business people in the Asia Pacific?

Key Takeaway #2

Assess whether your career is on track.

It’s just like a career health check-up done twice per year.

I had the moment to think through after getting triggered by a casual comment by my friend. That spun off to the “what-if” question which led me to search for regional opportunities.

Do you have any comments made by someone that turns on the switches for you?

Regional Sales

The idea struck hard, so I decided to apply for another job.

It was not long before my mobile phone rang.

The Hiring Manager of a market research firm called. We spoke but I didn’t think much about my phone interview. After all, I had minimal sales experiences.

Little did I know that my boss took me in because of my hunger to learn as a young adult.

Guess what I found out?

My soft skills came in handy.

I was fully engaged and spoke with mid-level professionals and senior management who were from Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Thailand, India, and Australia to just name a handful.

My job was to close deals.

Unfortunately, I hit a speed bump. I had my bad days of prospects not buying anything. That can last for months.

It’s a test of my grit and perseverance.

I could not just admit defeat. I wasn’t ready to do so.

I was down in morale but not one to back off.

So, I hang on, borrowed sales books to read, picked up key points in persuasion and practised negotiating techniques in actual situations.

Together with my past abilities and new skills acquired, I began to bring in new perspectives.

Soon, I realized that doing sales was a profession that could potentially be a rewarding career. I just enjoyed the entire process of turning something raw to a polished diamond!

Getting to mastery level

It’s clear to me now.

I thrive on challenges.

I want to grow in my sales career

I know where my skills are – but there is a desire within me to expand.

So, I draft a plan to bring my core competencies in sales to the next level.

What I do is to reflect the outcome of every sales negotiation.

If I fail, why?

If I win, why?

Then, I will compile my findings into a deck. I recycle my learning into the next sales scenario to test-drive whether specific tactics make sense.

I will look back at the deck if I run out of negotiating ideas.

Due to my healthy obsession to self-reflect and upskill, I become the top sales guy in my office within a year. More than 60 contracts won across 14 major countries in Asia Pacific & Australasia.

That’s my track record.

Perhaps, that’s the reason why our government is supporting skills upgrade.

Key Takeaway #3

Focus on developing your skills to an expert level.

Always review and find ways to improve.

Be very good at what you do – and others must know what you are specifically good at.

Someone will be willing to pay your perceived value.

What you can do next

Deep down, my passion to help people in careers remained.

So, I decided to walk on two tracks – one is in business development and sales and the other is career coaching.

My objective is to get to a senior level in sales and become an experienced Certified Coach in career development.

Today, I am happy to share my career story with the community.

Career is a process of discovery, learning from work and life experiences of both paid and unpaid.

I have found my core competencies and strongly leverage on them during my journey.

If you are still figuring where your career is as a young adult, you are not alone.

It’s the start of a new phase.

Go in to get experiences and walk through a discovery process.

During this time, identify the type of activities that you enjoy doing in your job. By then, you would have clarity in the occupation that is right for you.

Then, use your skills as a springboard to get potential career opportunities.

You should be a Specialist with a clear career plan after some years.

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