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Career Planning for Every Decade of Your Life

Some career advice and goals remain evergreen throughout your working life—like striving to be a clear communicator and knowing your worth. But others are closely tied to specific stages in your career and therefore (usually) specific ages in life (this might not be true if you switch career tracks or start a career later in life).

Your 20s

  • Work on elastic/soft skills like adaptability, communication, time management, team work, resilience, organization, and critical thinking.
  • Learn to recognize a good boss, the types of people you work well with, and what type of worker you are (do you lean toward leadership, creative roles, project management, or would you rather be able to work solo?).
  • Gain experience at every opportunity by asking for different types of assignments.
  • Begin building your network and finding mentors. You’ll learn more about your field, leadership, and other opportunities in the field. Network connections often turn into your career ladder over the years.
  • Expose yourself to different ideas and methodologies to avoid insulating your worldview.
  • Don't worry if you aren't positive about your career trajectory right away.
  • Don’t be afraid to accept a smaller paycheck (if there’s room for advancement) if a company provides good benefits like healthcare coverage and a retirement savings matching program. These will give you a stronger financial foundation than simply a higher salary.
  • Now’s the time to develop a side-gig to pay off loans and build up savings for big life milestones like marriage, owning a home, etc. It also lets you explore your talents outside of your main career path that, hey, one day might turn into your career!
  • Start saving for retirement. Seriously, it’s never too early. And the money you save now will work the hardest for you thanks to the wonder of compound interest on investments.
  • Begin to outline your long-term career goals and life goals that will affect your career.

Your 30s

  • Build an enviable online and offline presence in your field. Follow thought leaders and industry experts and add to the conversation, whether at conferences or on LinkedIn.
  • Take networking further by joining associations, groups, and professional seminars—which can all be added to your resume, too.
  • Evaluate what leadership training or advanced education such as a certification or master’s degree would help you get to your next desired role.
  • Volunteer for leadership positions.
  • Learn how to achieve work/life balance.
  • If you do take a break from your career to start a family, try to stay connected to your network. This will keep the option open of reentering the workforce.
  • Get clear on a bigger vision for your career and life. This will help you recover from a setback, identify next steps for advancement, and move to a better opportunity if it comes along.
  • Keep an eye on saving for retirement, even if you now have diapers to buy and college to save for.

Your 40s

  • It’s normal and okay to feel grief, regret, or restlessness at this point in your career. With that in mind…
  • Making a lateral move can be the challenge or change you need.
  • Take an honest look at your skill sets to seek areas of improvement and growth.
  • Continue to pursue professional development and advanced certifications, like Google Analytics, coding, or executive leadership courses.
  • Stay on top of trends and changes in your industry to avoid becoming outdated (it can happen fast).
  • Consider new opportunities for financial incentives, greater career fulfillment, and/or better work/life flexibility.
  • Ensure your digital literacy, no matter what your current position.
  • Reassess your retirement strategy and make sure you’re on track with your savings. If you’re not, find a job (or a new budget) that allows you to save more.

Your 50s

  • Consider becoming a mentor. This can add a great sense of satisfaction. Try two-way mentoring, which can bridge generational gaps.
  • Use your experience to your advantage by taking up a leadership role, acting as a subject-matter expert on a panel or at a conference. This will add to your visibility with your employer and drive home your value as an employee.
  • Think about what you want to achieve before retiring: a certain type of project, a career title, or volunteering for a task force?
  • Map out an exit plan for your career. Will you want to do a hard-stop retirement, or do you want to taper off to part-time work before retiring completely?
  • Take a hard look at your finances to determine when you’ll be able to retire at a comfortable level.
  • Start planning out that retirement.

Your 60s

  • Consider how to give back your time and talent to a worthy cause or nonprofit. Perhaps take up mentorship opportunities outside of your current job.
  • Consider if you’d like to continue (or need) to work in a part-time, freelance, or consulting capacity to ease into retirement.
  • Leverage connections to explore career opportunities you might have previously overlooked or passed over because of other life demands, like raising children.
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