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Uncommon Career Advice

From an anonymous Quora user with an answer to “What are a few unique pieces of career advice that nobody ever mentions?” Some of the best career advice I’ve ever come across.

 

  • Small actions compound: Reputation, career trajectory, and how others perceive you in the workplace can come down down to a handful of things/moments that seem inconsequential/small at the time but compound. Random Thought:Redwood trees come from small seeds and time. With every action you’re planting small seeds and these seeds can grow into something bigger (sometimes unimaginably bigger) over time. Don’t let small basic mistakes sabotage your reputation because it only takes a few small snafus for people to lose confidence/trust in your ability to do more important tasks. Trust is a fragile thing and the sooner people can trust you the faster they’ll give you more responsibility. Some Examples: Being on time (always) or early (better); spending an extra 10-15 minutes reviewing your work and catching basic mistakes before your boss does; structuring your work so it’s easy for others to understand and leverage (good structure/footnotes/formatting); taking on unpleasant schleps/tasks (volunteer for them; don’t complain; do it even when there’s no apparent benefit to you)

 

  • Rising tide lifts all boats: Fact: You don’t become CEO of a multi-billion dollar public company in your 30s based purely on ability/talent. Your career is a boat and it is at the mercy of tides. No matter how talented you are it’s a lot harder to break out in a sluggish situation/hierarchy/economy than a go-go environment. Even if you’re a superstar at Sluggish Co., your upside trajectory (more often than not) is fractional to what an average/below average employee achieves at Rocket Ship Co. There’s a reason Eric Schmidt told Sheryl Sandberg to “Get on a Rocket Ship”. I had colleagues accelerate their careers/income/title/responsibility simply because business demand was nose bleed high (go go economy) and they were at the right place at the right time to ride the wave. Contrast that to the 2008 bust where earnings/promotions/careers have been clamped down and people are thankful for having jobs let alone moving up. Yes talent still matters but I think people generally overweight individual talent and underweight economics when evaluating/explaining their career successes. Sheryl Sandberg Quote: When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

 

  • Seek opportunities where the outcome is success or failure. Nothing in between: You don’t become a star doing your job. You become a star making things happen. I was once told early in my career that you learn the most in 1) rapidly growing organizations or 2) failing organizations. I’ve been in both kinds of situations and wholeheartedly agree. Repeat. Get on a rocket ship. It’ll either blow up or put you in orbit. Either way you’ll learn a ton in a short amount of time. Put another way, seek jobs where you can get 5-10 years of work experience in 1-2 years.

 

  • Career Tracks & Meritocracies don’t exist: Your career is not a linear, clearly defined trajectory.  It will be messy and will move more like a step function.

 

  • You will probably have champions and detractors on day 1: One interesting byproduct of the recruiting & hiring process of most organizations is it can create champions & detractors before you even start the job. Some folks might not like how you were brought into the organization (they might have even protested your hiring) and gun for you at every turn while others will give you the benefit of the doubt (even when you don’t deserve one) because they stuck their neck out to hire you. We’re all susceptible to these biases and few people truly evaluate/treat folks on a blank slate.

 

  • You’ll only be known for a few things. Make those labels count: People rely on labels as quick filters. Keep this in mind when you pick an industry/company/job role/school because it can serve as an anchor or elevator in the future. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is. You should always be aware of what your “labels” are.

 

  • Nurture & protect your network and your network will nurture & protect you: Pay it forward and help people. Your network will be one of the biggest drivers of your success.

 

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