There’s an entrepreneur in each one of us, running a startup: our career. Here’re five tips to fast-track this startup towards success.
Most students graduate from colleges and join jobs. One question that the ambitious few have asked me over and over is: 'What are the key learnings you’ve had from your career?' or 'If there’s one thing you would do differently, what would it be?'. Here are a few nuggets I’ve gathered over 11 years in tech.
Find a superboss
Some people in your career just propel you forward. They push you to limits you didn't know you were capable of; their drive and focus causes you to want to revolve in their orbit. These bosses may drive you hard; they demand exceptionally high performance. But they set a vision for you, pushing you to your career-best. Identify such talent magnets in your industry, and make it your business to go work for them even at a lower pay.
Be selective about projects you pick
Over and over, I've learnt that two types of projects propel folks farther and faster than others:
- Projects that are core to the company's central strategy. For instance, if you work at Goldman Sachs, you want to be working on the top portfolios that it handles. If you worked at Google, you want to have had a tech rotation through advertising. Conversely, if you're interested in talent management, you want to work for Humana rather than at an HR department of a tech company.
- Projects that are technically hard, grunt-work, but form the infrastructure for several growth hacks that can be built on top of it. An example typically is analytics platforms, accounting platforms etc. Because no one wants to do this, there is deep appreciation for those who pick these up to bolster the business.
Don't wait for formal performance review cycles to introspect into what your strengths and weaknesses are. This should be an ongoing process:
- Spend an hour per week religiously internalising all you learnt through the various projects and people you've touched that week.
- Have a regular one-on-one with your manager to pull this feedback frequently from them. This has the secondary advantage that you get to work on your perceived weaknesses immediately.
- Also, don't ignore peers and reportees as a great source of feedback. What you say or do at work affects them the most and their inputs are usually actionable.
- Finally, keep up your reading. Books and blogs are great ways to continually evaluate where you stand in terms of skills to pick up. A few must reads to get started: The Start-Up of You, Drive, Only the Paranoid Survive, Rework and, particularly, if you're a woman: Lean In. Here's a list of books and articles friends have put together over the years.
Switch gears when you're ready
Earlier in our careers, all our skills are raw. We should be open to learning anything and everything. Whether excel modelling or giving the perfect presentations, throw yourself into every fire, and iterate towards perfection. Make mistakes; learn from them.
Over time, we figure out skills we're strong at and those that we're not-so-strong-at. Notice what skills are starting to get positive reviews, and what your peers are approaching you to learn. It's important to critically evaluate yourself and have a clear assessment of your strengths and abilities.
Next, find that inflection point in your career when you should move from being a skill-sponge to honing just your strengths. Focussing on chipping away towards perfection in one area helps focus your energies making your strongest traits even stronger. Further, your innate strength in that area will propel you towards success, which will reinforce your efforts.
Build your brand
Strange but true: most companies go out of their way to retain not just high-performers, but high-performers at risk. These are the people who a) are critical go-to-persons on the team, and b) are in demand in the industry. Hence it's important to build your brand:
- Build your network outside of work: As one gets deeper into work, it's super easy to disconnect from other industries and focus just on your own. This is potential career suicide. First, one can bring strategies from parallel industries into one's work instead of reinventing solutions to every problem. Second, keeping networks warm help in jumping between options relatively easily; you will have a much better opportunity through a referral than through a recruiter.
- Be on the lookout: Even if you're happy at your work, it doesn't hurt to have frequent conversations with potential recruiters. This keeps you abreast of your value in the industry. It also gives you a leverage factor in your performance review cycles.
In conclusion, you should think like entrepreneurs continually working on a startup: you! You need to be constantly planning and adapting as businesses do. Always think of yourself as being in beta - constantly striving to evolve and making yourself better.
Cheers to your successful career!
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)