In an attempt to sell his book, The Start-up of You, Reid Hoffman created a compelling presentation about how young grads should face the real world. Although trite, his advice does bear repeating to those who might not have considered how to handle their careers before. I’ve summarized the main points below (develop skills, build networks, and take calculated risks), in addition to adding my own commentary.
To succeed in this era of global expansion and hyper-connectedness, you must build a competitive advantage for yourself. If you can’t do something that a computer or low wage worker in China can do for less, then there’s no reason a company should hire you. Your competitive advantage is made up of the skills you acquire, whether in school or through on the job training. On the one hand there are hard skills such as STEM experience, programming, and design. On the other hand there are soft skills such as leadership qualities, clarity of vision, and communication abilities.
When choosing which skills to develop, keep in mind your aspirations and your market realities. Put another way, what are the areas you are willing and able to explore? What you are willing to do depends on what you enjoy and what your morals are. Taking the time to understand what matters to you is important, and cannot be achieved through any shortcuts. What you are able to do depends on what companies are willing to pay you for.
Ultimately, the best career has you pursuing worthy aspirations, using your skills, while staying cognizant of market realities.
Knowing the right people is the gateway to success because people control resources, opportunities, and information. If you’re looking for an opportunity, what you’re really looking for is a person.
Oftentimes you don’t even have to receive a tangible reward to benefit from your network. Just spending time around the right people is powerful enough because the people you spend the most time with shape who you become. It has been said that we are all just the conglomeration of the six people we spend the most time with.
As a corollary, the fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be. If you want to be a successful designer, hang out with other successful designers. If you want to be a great soccer player, hang out with other great soccer players. And the best way to get connected to other people is via the people you already know.
Take Calculated Risks
In the real world, you need to learn how to fail fast. It’s about defining a problem, creating a set of hypotheses, and rapidly testing to get to an answer. In most cases, it’s not the accuracy of your original assumptions that counts, but rather the velocity at which you can test your assumptions.
Early on in your career, you should optimize for learning over salary. Additionally, you must keep in mind that learning is only achieved through doing. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”
Some of the actions you taking will be inherently risky – that’s okay. When the worst case scenario means getting fired, losing a bit of time or money, or experiencing some discomfort, it is a risk you should be willing to take. If the worst case scenario is the serious tarnishing of your reputation, loss of all your economic assets, or something otherwise career-ending, don’t accept that risk.
The best opportunities are frequently the ones with the most question marks. It helps explain why no one else is going after them. By the time all the uncertainty has been removed, there is very little value to gain. In the end, be willing to take intelligent risks to move forward. With solid technical skills and a robust network as your foundation, there’s a good chance you will land on your feet.
[Adapted from: www.businessinsider.com/amazing-career-advice-for-college-grads-from-linkedins-billionaire-founder-2013-5]