There’s a lot you can learn about your own career by comparing the journey to that of a technology startup. Most of the principles and practices associated with startup success can be applied directly to your own work and pattern at your job.
Consider that a startup, much like you, is attempting to prove a level of competency and advance forward amongst their peers. They start from a base of knowledge or an idea and must execute on project after project to earn the trust of customers, investors, and partners. Over time, their level of execution grants them more customers, investors, and partners. A career is no different. The better you equip and continuously train yourself, the more you earn in the form of salary, equity, prestige, title, flexibility, and responsibility.
When founders first get together to start a startup, they go through a long bootstrapping process where they spend their time quietly building a product or prototype, testing a business model, and validating their idea. This step is crucial to a successful startup: without a product, a proven method of how to sell it, and a clear need for that product, a startup provides nothing of value. They’ll find it difficult to raise money or earn revenue, and will end up as one of the 90% of startup failures.
Along that same train of thought, your own career goes through a lengthy bootstrapping process. Whether you’re a recent grad, a career transitioner, or you just received a promotion, you need to go through a proving process when beginning a new leg in your professional journey.
That involves taking the skills and knowledge you do have, putting them into practice, and developing a portfolio of work (your resume) over time – all for the sake of proving to others that you’re valuable and earning you the ability to move forward in your career. Whether that’s in the form of increased compensation or a new job at an awesome company, going through a successful bootstrap phase is the first step to anyone’s eventual success.
So when you’re in the bootstrapping phase of your career, diligently work on your own product (skills), your business model (prove value and build a network), and validation of your work (projects, internships, portfolios). Then, develop a marketing plan to sell your skills to companies you want to work for.
In a startup, there’s a very short chain of accountability. Every employee, manager, and founder has more direct responsibility than in any traditional company. There is a very muddled chain of command, and everyone answers for their own work. Further, startups adopt metrics and methods of evaluation that make it extremely clear who is doing their work and who is slacking.
After all, a small team is only as strong as its weakest member, and can’t afford to keep unproductive team members on board.
Your career should run along the same lines. You are only truly accountable to yourself, and the buck stops with you. You need to have metrics and evaluations upon which you can determine your own successes and failures. What did you do for the last organization you worked for?
Were there tangible results? Can you measure the impact? Knowing your own output also lets you set new goals and push beyond your limits.
A startup lives and dies on its flexibility. Do the founders recognize when something is going wrong? Do they recognize opportunity and capture it at the right time? Are they willing to pivot when they see things aren’t going well? Is the team willing to scrap parts or all of something they’ve been working on if they can’t prove value?
Your career can also live or die on your flexibility. Are you constantly learning something new? If you see that your skills are lacking in particular areas, are you working on developing them? If you’re unhappy with your career path, are you willing to pivot? The tools are there for you to do any of this. Coursera, General Assembly, Khan Academy, Duolingo, Wikipedia… the list goes on and on. Strive to place yourself in a position where you are always learning, whether within your field or outside of it. The most valuable talent is the most adaptable, so rest assured that your efforts will be noticed.
It’s a word that startup founders hear all the time as they build their business. Will you invest in the company? No. Will you buy our product? No. Have we done enough? No.
This will also happen many times in your career. Will you give me an interview? No. Do you consider me qualified for this job? No. Will you hire me? No. Can I have a promotion? No.
What doesn’t matter is the no. What matters is how the startup responds. The best startups aren’t content with just hearing no and moving forward without making any changes. They strive to change that answer from a no to a yes, no matter how much effort it takes. They know how to judge valid criticism from worthless negativity, and they know how to synthesize criticism into a positive plan of action.
The same applies for your career. No can be a devastating answer to hear, but you have to move past it. Look to learn from the people who say no to you. Ask them for feedback or consider for yourself what might have led to their decision.
And keep trucking! Sometimes, in an effort to do something great, you’ll hear no a lot. Life can often be a numbers game. Don’t stop after talking to one company in your area of interest, or two, or five – you never know who might recognize the value you can offer or be willing to give you a chance.
Author: Stefan Mancevski is co-founder of JobHero, a free all-in-one job search dashboard enabling you to organize, optimize, and upgrade your hunt for a new gig. You can follow Stefan on Twitter at @smancevski.