Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Art & Science of Building a Career

Over the years I’ve come up with my own theory of how to build a career.

I think about building careers along three dimensions… let’s call them X , Y and Z.

The X dimension is the type of skills that different roles require. So finance skills vs. technology skills vs. marketing skills etc.

The Y dimension is the type of cultural environment in which those skills are used and exploited. It could be which geographic regional culture like American vs. European or it could be the type of business… like family-oriented entrepreneurial group vs. multinational environment or it could be hierarchical vs consensus driven culture etc etc

The Z dimension is the industry domain that that role belongs to …. Consumer financial services vs insurance vs healthcare vs retail etc

Every role can be defined along these three dimensions and as you go through your career you must do three or four things. One you need to make sure you really become an expert at one dimension at least – and do that early in your career. I’m a big believer that as you go through a career, you’ll always be known for one or two things that define you …. almost a safety net. So if everything else is lost, you can go back to your core.

The second rule is to change one dimension every time you move from one role to another. But don’t change two dimensions if you can avoid it and please don’t change three dimensions because that’s a disaster!!

The third is that over a period of three or four moves, change all dimensions. So if you look at role number one to role number four, you should have changed all three. And then you’re in a different culture, in a different industry, in a different domain!!

This way, you can almost chart your career as multiple potential options. So when I was working in highly change-oriented organizations like Unilever, Citibank, and then GE, every time I was asked to move jobs within the organization, it took me pretty much ten minutes to say yes or no because all I needed to do was fit it into this model. So I changed six roles in three years with Citibank. I changed four roles in six years with Pond’s and Unilever and I changed five roles in five years with GE and GE Capital in the early part of my career at GE …. I said yes in 100 % of those situations but that’s a different story I will tackle another day !!

But like most successful ‘mantras’, this one has to be a blend of art and science. The dimensions and rules are the science part of building a career… but you need equal parts of ‘art’ to build a successful career and this comes from investing in longevity, relationships and passion.

The generation that is getting into the workforce today is more impatient, more exposed, and they probably are more knowledgeable. They want everything in life… their gratification has to be instant!! When we hire people and look at resumes, we don’t care what a great job someone is doing today or yesterday, if the resume shows six jobs in ten years, they have zero chance of even being called for an interview. Zero chance! We just don’t call them because no amount of telling me why they did what they did is going to convince me that they’re going to last.

Equity gets created only when time is spent. Knowledge gets created only with time… when you combine intellect with experience. So one of the biggest things that I would tell people coming out of universities into the workforce and joining the workforce today is do not underestimate time, and do not underestimate relationships and both require equity. If someone were to ask me the one joy that I’ve got over twenty-five years of a career, I would say it’s seeing people who have worked with me, who have worked for me, and are now in probably bigger jobs than even they dreamt of . And I can look at them and say part of the reason they are who they are is because of the fact that, "we worked together. "

And the last thing I’d say is to be extremely passionate about what you do. Like Steve Jobs said do what you’re passionate about and be passionate about what you do, otherwise don’t do it. When the two match, there is no difference between work and play. I work twenty-four hours though I might not be in office… because I love what I do. I’m really passionate about what I do. And I think if people actually gravitate to doing things, whatever it is, that combine those two, then I think the chances of being hugely successful is so much better.