5 Career Mistakes That Are OK to Make in Your 20s

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Nobody’s perfect. No matter how together you are, you’re going to make some mistakes in your life, including when it comes to your career. Those screw-ups are especially common in your 20s, when you’re still figuring out how this whole “real world” thing works.

The good news is that there’s nothing wrong with making a few bad career decisions when you’re young. As long as you learn from your errors, the dumb choices and stupid moves you make in your 20s can help make you successful later in life. So, if you’re beating yourself up over a work-related gaffe, stop. Here are five career mistakes it’s OK to make before you turn 30.


1. Bombing an interview

You were late, forgot the interviewer’s name, or flubbed an easy question. Job interviews are tough (92% of Americans said they were stressed by at least one part of the process, a recent survey found), and once in a while you’re bound to end up on one that doesn’t go smoothly. When that happens, try to figure out what went wrong and learn from it. Or, take it as a reminder that just getting an interview doesn’t mean a job is a good fit for you.

“In some cases, we realize we said/did the wrong thing,” career expert J.T. O’Donnell, told CBS News. “But, in other cases we realize we stand by what we said and that the reaction should be a sign that it wasn’t the right place for us to work.”

2. Screwing up a big project

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You’ve dropped the ball on a big project or assignment, and now you’re beating yourself up (and are maybe even nervous about getting fired). Rather than dwelling on what you did wrong, own up to it. While some on-the-job errors really are career killers, many are learning experiences in disguise. Acknowledge what you did wrong and try to figure out how to keep it from happening again.

“We all make mistakes. Every one of us. If we aren’t making mistakes, then we likely aren’t trying enough new things outside our comfort zone, and that itself is a mistake,” Amy Rees Anderson, an angel investor with REES Capital, wrote in Forbes.


3. Quitting your job

Millennials made up 40% of the unemployed population in 2014, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Statistics like that can make the idea of quitting your job in your 20s seem downright foolish. But don’t let fear hold you back from exploring better opportunities. Not quitting a crappy job now could even mean you’ll earn less money over the course of your life.

“People who switch jobs more frequently early in their careers tend to have higher wages and incomes in their prime-working years,” Henry Siu, a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics who studies youth unemployment, told The Atlantic. “Job-hopping is actually correlated with higher incomes, because people have found better matches—their true calling.”

4. Not dressing the part

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Ideally, you head to your first day of your post-college job impeccably attired. In reality, it can take some time to transition from the oh-so-casual style of your teens and early 20s to a look that’s a bit more adult. While there’s no excuse to dress like a slob, cut yourself a little slack as you learn how to dress for your job – or the job you want. Over time, you’ll settle into the style that’s perfect for you and your career.


5. Making a decision you regret

There’s no better time than your 20s to make big, risky career moves. You can move to a new city for a job, switch fields entirely, or try to start your own business. Sometimes, those leaps of faith pan out, and other times you end up regretting your decision. That’s OK. You just need to switch gears (again) and be able to explain what you learned from your mistake.

“Your recent move (the one you think of as a misstep) will make perfect sense to hiring managers and recruiters as soon as you see how your latest adventure brought you to the place you stand in right now,” career expert Liz Ryan wrote in a blog post for LinkedIn.

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