The Sure Fire Career Strategy

“I don’t want to be CEO of such-and-such, or an SVP of XYZ.”

LinkedIn’s own Krista Canfield and I were doing walkntalk, when she pointed out that today she works at LI telling their stories, a role that didn’t even exist as of a few years ago for a company that didn’t exist 15 years ago. “How could I have known I would want that?”, she astutely pointed out.

Career management these days is challenging. A lot of advice about career management assumes you want to go “up” some corporate ladder, but modern reality shows that a big portion of the workforce is a free agent (nearly 50% of the US workforce is doing some kind of freelance or “solopreneur” activity). Also, a bunch of jobs that will come into existence are just little glimmers in our collective eyes. And, finally, most of us do a much wider range of things than we used to; today’s careers are more like “jungle gyms, not ladders”, as Pattie Sellers of Fortune once said. Chasing any particular title is like chasing a ghost, or a mirage. This won’t accelerate your career one bit.

Networks are the new companies, which means a change in how we find work, too. We need to move past networking with our near-by colleagues, or “up” a chain of command, because the odds are high that you aren’t going to find your next job within the same organizations. Networking “out” is probably a better career strategy.

This is just what Natalia Oberti Noguera, which Fast Company covered as changing the face of angel investing, did with me. She wrote me an email entitled, “You are one of my 30 influencers” with the following:

I’m happy to share that this month I will be turning thirty. I wrote a list of thirty people who have influenced me in the past few years, and I included you. You have inspired me — thank you. What’s your availability to meet for breakfast/lunch/dinner/tea, or via Skype/Google Hangout, in August? I would love to catch up and find out how I can be of service. Also to thank you for making a positive impact on me.

Natalia and I had met because she is CEO of the Pipeline Fellowship, an angel investing bootcamp for women, works to increase diversity in the U.S angel investing community and creates capital for women social entrepreneurs. Our passions overlap in the area of economics / culture / feminism and so we’ve stayed in some touch since our first introduction.

Given that oh-so-well written note, and our shared interest, it was easy to say “yes” to meeting. And here’s what Natalia did: First, we did a general catch up on what each of us is working on. She offered me tons of great suggestions. Then, she asked me three questions:

  • What is a best book/movie inspiration for you and why?
  • They say that “what got you here, won’t get you there”, so what are your tips for my thirties?
  • Who should I meet in this new decade?

Natalia Oberti Noguera - 2012 NYC #PFconf bio pic (color)Natalia and I talked about my love of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, because I thought that book especially captured how to be real as you write; earth-shaking-real because that kind of authenticity that creates emotional resonance and ultimately change in another.

I also shared with her that you need to switch gears in your 30’s from “knowing”, to being insatiably curious about everything… because this is what lets you persistently learn and unlearn overtime.

When she asked me whom she should meet, I got to thinking about how, as Natalia continues to build a movement to change the face of angel investing and grow her company, she could benefit from the perspective of an influential thinker/leader with decades of experience in the field of investing. That got me thinking of Sallie Krawcheck (who has the wonderful history of being a senior exec of both BofA, and Merill Lynch. Fortune once called her “The Queen of Wall Street”.) I wouldn’t have thought of the connection without being asked the question.

Natalia and Krista reminded me that pursuing a title is not a modern career strategy. This is what Mitch Joel refers to as a squiggly career, which I wrote about earlier. While it might have worked well in the industrial era, it doesn’t work now. In fact, I’d argue that chasing the title tiara will only lock you in a too-narrow lens – into one rather limited measure — of the world and your related career. Being glued to a particularly sparkly title tiara is going to be a career killer.

But, what does work for a sure fire career strategy is to network “out” to people who are allies, ask good questions, be open to what comes, and to ask others to be your extended agent to make the connections you need in the Social Era.

2 Responses:

  1. Linda. September 24, 2013 at 2:00 pm  |  

    Wow Nilofer – this has become a pivotal day! Without knowing it, you have extended your hand into my job-search rut and lifted my out. Thank you for such a thoughtful, well articulated post. I have been in transition the better part of this year, and while I have not chased a title for a long time, after over 25 years of experience, I have been chasing that “something new, different, and has not existed before” – at least in the traditional way it has not existed before.

    You and I bumped into each other in the parking lot of the Sofitel a few years ago, not remembering where we originally met. To this day, I do not remember how we met but I am forever grateful for the timing at the Sofitel! Since then you have certainly been one of my influencers and I want to thank you for that and for today.

    I look forward to our paths crossing again soon – although I now reside in Southern CA Hubby’s job), but you never know what parking lot we may be in at the same time.

    Warmly, Linda

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. September 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm  |  

      Thanks Linda – on my levels, this note is lovely to see. And enjoy your travels to find what’s next. It’s a journey, not a destination…

      Reply

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