How to build a successful career as a young adult: 3 key lessons I’ve learned

I remember my days as a student. Back then, there wasn’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 rules all”

Ok, I got it!

With my Diploma in Marketing, I sent out a dozen of applications focusing on entry-level roles. The type of job didn’t matter.

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.

I was only 26 years, and it was 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.

Interestingly, I was fixated with my colleague’s ability to actively listen and confidently answer them in a very consultative manner. No views were ever imposed.

An informal career consultation to understand the client’s needs

I also found the thought processes of our clients to be fascinating.

Why would they advance their studies in medicine just because their mums say so? 

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

Yeah! I was curious about people and their way of processing information, and enthusiastically took on cases from anyone who walked into our centre enquiring about further studies in Australia.

I gained first-hand experience in diagnosing career-study situations, and began to research and read deeper into career development theories and education prospectuses. That equipped me with knowledge.

What I didn’t know was something that made me marketable in my future career pathway. Through the numerous 1-1 sessions with customers, I’d acquired the basic foundation of soft skills through listening, paraphrasing and summarizing.

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 like what you do, your skills will shine through. Write these skills on a piece of paper and keep it 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 made it sound like a golden ticket to career success.

Initially, it was just plain chit-chat, much like 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 businesspeople 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 had called. I didn’t think much about my phone interview as I had minimal sales experience.

I didn’t know then, but my boss took me in because of my hunger to learn as a young adult.

Guess what I discovered?

My soft skills came in handy.

I was fully engaged and spoke with mid-level professionals and senior management from countries like Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Thailand, India, and Australia.

My job was to close deals. Unfortunately, I hit a speed bump. I had my bad days of prospects not buying anything, which could last for months.

It was 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 hung on, borrowed sales books to read, picked up key points in persuasion and practiced 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 that I thrive on challenges. I want to grow in my sales career. I know where my skills are—but have a desire to become better.

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?

Thereafter, I compile my findings into a deck and recycle my learnings into the next sales scenario to test-drive whether specific tactics make sense. I will consult the deck when 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.

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 make sure that others 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 two tracks: one in Business development and sales and the other in 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 success – enjoy the process and keep doing it.

Career is a process of discovery, learning from work and life experiences 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 accumulate experience and walk through a discovery process.

During this time, identify the types 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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