Young Professionals
ATD Blog

5 Important Skills Young Professionals Need to Succeed

Friday, March 17, 2017

In my college days, I remember someone telling me, “You will gain 20 percent of your knowledge in the classroom, and 80 percent on the job.” They couldn’t have been more accurate. As I reflect on the first five years of my career as a young professional, many of my successes have been a result of lessons learned from my failures. Along the way, I have had some great mentors and influential managers who have coached me through big mistakes and enabled me to become more successful through every learning experience. 

As I have continued to set professional goals for myself, I have recognized that there are many skills I currently possess that will always need development. For instance, one of the self-development strategies I often leverage as an author is reading. This past month, I read Lindsey Pollak’s most recent book, Becoming the Boss, which contained many useful and helpful tips for young professionals to stand out and develop themselves as future leaders of organizations.  

Below are five skills that I believe have helped me have a successful first five years as a professional: 


As much as networking can be a frustrating concept for many people, it is still one of the most valuable skills a professional can possess, particularly at the beginning of a career. Every job and opportunity I have been given in my career thus far has resulted from a relationship I have built along the way. In Becoming the Boss, Lindsey Pollak outlines several strategies for those seeking to build their network and offers some suggestions for those who really dislike networking. 

How to develop this skill: Begin building relationships starting now with as many people as possible, even if you don’t think they can help you. The bigger your network, the bigger range of opportunities you will possess. 

Presentation Skills

According to many studies, public speaking continues to be the number one fear for people. Yet it remains one of the most critical skills in business to be successful. Having solid presentation skills is helpful in closing sales deals, making career moves, running effective meetings, communicating ideas, and so much more. If you can become an effective presenter, you will widen your capabilities as a professional and be able to succeed in many situations where others cannot. 

How to develop this skill: Find ways to get yourself presenting in front of other people as often as you can. The only way to overcome your fears of something is to do it until you fear it no more.  


Business Writing 

Because much of today’s communication is exchanged through nonverbal mediums such as email, instant messaging, texting, and social media, your professional reputation is highly influenced by the way you write. Becoming a good writer, one who uses proper grammar and punctuation in correspondence, can go a long way toward earning the respect of your peers and help you excel in your career. There are countless situations in which you will be counted on to write a proposal, an important email, and other types of correspondence, so it is important to be prepared when the task arrives at your desk. 



The most successful professionals recognize that communicating the right information, at the right time, and in the right way creates opportunities for people to come together and solve business challenges. Becoming a great communicator begins with being a great listener. When someone is talking, it is human nature to focus on what to say next instead of listening to what the other person has to say. Focus on mastering the communication process and you will find that you will be misunderstood less and heard more often.  

How to develop this skill: Actively work to develop your listening skills when interacting with others. By listening well, you will be able to communicate your response more effectively. 


Time Management 

Being late, missing deadlines, and rushing to get things done is the best way to decrease your credibility as a professional. Everyone has busy lives, but the mark of a true professional is to manage your time well by planning ahead, avoiding overcommitting yourself, and only making promises you will be able to keep. Leverage today’s technology to plan out your day and keep your schedule on track. 

How to develop this skill: Start saying “no” more often to voluntary commitments and create “margin” in your schedule to ensure completion of all your tasks. 

Will you be at ATD 2017? If so, be sure to attend the session Growing in Place: Maximizing Your Value at Work and hear from career coaches on how to develop your skills!


About the Author

Dan Schwartz is an HR communications manager with BKD CPAs and Advisors. In his role, Dan is focused on executing communication initiatives for BKD to support the firm’s culture and communicate the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). He is responsible for developing, writing and overseeing the release of internal and external communication documents and programs that promote the firm's key people initiatives. Dan has published articles, books, videos, and podcasts related to career development and leadership development. He is the author of TD at Work: Managing as a Ground Floor Leader, Winning Strategies: Achieving Success in the Classroom, Career and Life and is a contributing author to Find Your Fit: A Practical Guide to Landing a Job You'll Love.

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