Old advice can still pay big dividends for a new generation of young professionals.
The economy is still challenging for many, young professionals included. While most economists agree the country is out of recession, economic growth has been slow, unemployment is still high, and wages have been stagnant.
Both career and financial opportunities exist, area financial planners, consultants and career experts agree. The following is just some of the advice and tips they give for young professionals —advice that for the most part has stood the test of time.
‘It’s not what, but who you know’
Networking is the most important skill for young professionals looking to develop their career, said Lyell Montgomery, managing partner with People First HR Solutions in La Crosse. Networking allows them to get their foot in the door when starting out and offers advancement and career opportunities for established professionals both inside and outside of their current workplace.
When it comes to building that network, Montgomery advises being picky. He said young professionals should use a targeted approach. Look for contacts in the geographic locations you are interested in and companies that have growth opportunities you want. Doing research is vital for growing your network.
Inside your company, look for opportunities to get involved. Get in front of the key people in the company and make a favorable impression.
“The most important thing is to perform at the highest level in the job you are in,” Montgomery said. “Get involved in the culture and community, do your job and be engaged.”
Montgomery said it is also helpful for young professionals to talk to people in the same job, organization or industry. Making those connections can help with career planning and goals, and finding out what is needed to achieve them.
If looking outside for networking resources, join LinkedIn groups, add contacts on Facebook and Twitter. But don’t be too aggressive, Montgomery cautioned.
“Be careful, especially when starting your career,” he said. “You don’t want it to look like you want to leave.”
Learn from the boss
Communicating with those in charge is also very important, said communications consultant and public speaker Diane Amundson of Winona. And the most important person young professionals should watch and take cues from is their boss.
This issue is that most young professionals belong to the younger generations, while many of those in supervisory roles are baby boomers. That can result in communication problems.
While Amundson cautioned that every person’s personality is unique, she said that managers born to a specific generation tend to have a specific work ethic and view on work-life balance.
Members of the baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, prefer face-to-face conversations over electronic ones, she said, and value putting in long hours over a results-oriented approach.
Members of Generations X and Y tend to favor the opposite, focusing on balancing work and life and favoring results over long hours.
Amundson said young professionals should communicate in the style that their bosses prefer, along with their work ethic. If you have a baby boomer boss, she said, plan on getting in early, working late and sitting down with the boss face-to-face to bring up questions and concerns.
“I advise young professionals to think like a boomer in terms of communicating and networking,” Amundson said. “You need to embrace the people side. We love the technology, but we still want you to come talk to us.”
Along with networking, Viterbo career service director Beth Dolder-Zieke suggested finding a mentor. Dolder-Zieke said that there are a lot of baby boomers preparing to leave the workforce with a lifetime of experience who would make great mentors for young professionals. But any kind of mentor can be helpful, even co-workers or just friends.
“It’s very helpful to have somebody else who can offer career advice or at the very least act as a sounding board for your ideas,” she said. “Talk to people. Make as many connections as you can.”
‘A penny saved is a penny earned’
Both Winona State University finance department chairman Mark Wrolstad and Cory Roupe, a financial planner with Edward Jones, stressed that young professionals need to save more.
Roupe suggested placing 15 percent of after-tax income in investments and savings, while Wrolstad said to save 10 percent and give 10 percent to charity. Both agreed that an emergency fund of several months’ worth of income should be created in case of unemployment or financial emergency.
“Being financially secure is all about how you spend the money,” Wrolstad said. “If you can learn to live off 80 percent of your paycheck, you will be comfortable for the rest of your life.”
As to where to invest that money, the first thing Roupe said young professionals should do is educate themselves on the investment options and retirement plans offered by their employers and to take advantage of any matching funds the companies offer in their plans.
The early years of a career are the best time to save, Roupe said. Young professionals typically have fewer financial obligations like mortgages and a family. Roupe advised staying away from debt and saving as much as possible.
“If you spend all your money, you are passing up a real good time to get ahead,” Roupe said. “Time is a big ally for savings and investments. Any amount saved at this time yields very large dividends.”
The next thing for a young professional to do is to start tackling any debt from college or the past. Eliminating high-interest debt is the first priority; lower-interest forms of debt like college loans are a lower priority.
Tackle the debt, but make sure to save as well. It’s important for younger people to save a few dollars all the time, Roupe said, and get any employer matches.
“You can either save a little for a long time or a lot for a short time,” Roupe said. “The first one is much easier.”