Time to unsuck it.
The education-to-job conveyor belt is stupid.
The process of becoming employable starts when you’re a teen. It doesn’t really end until you have some kind of career trajectory. For most, that’s not until around 30.
We’re talking about twenty percent of your life. Geez.
The suck begins in school
The great fear that keeps everybody in school is that without it you’ll be a homeless idiot. Sure, there are loftier reasons people tell you to chase grades and obey rules, but mostly it’s blind belief that you can’t get a decent job without it.
So you put up with the pain and boredom, check boxes and turn in papers. You tacitly accept arbitrary grading and ranking and stickers and stars. It may not matter in the real world, but it gets you into college. College doesn’t matter in the real world either, and everyone secretly knows it but is afraid to say it because they don’t know what else to do.
So you’ve got a generic degree and specific debt.
The suck continues on the job hunt
Now you need to format your resume. You know, that ancient technology called paper with lines on it? It’s supposed to be the secret weapon. Get the margins right and they will throw money at you.
You scan jobs boards, find out quickly that your major doesn’t really matter and you don’t know what any of these job titles mean. The descriptions don’t help. “Manage strategic partnerships with multiple vendors” makes no sense.
You apply anyway. Your properly-margined resume gets blasted to dozens of these. You get one or two interviews. Eventually you get someone somewhere to pay you for something.
You kind of muddle through your first several jobs, dreaming about a way to get paid for playing video games. There’s not a lot of meaning or direction in this process, but you’ve got student loans to service. For the rest of your life.
You’re not crazy to wonder if there’s a better way
Forget that sad story. Let’s start at the foundation, instead of following a bunch of stupid inherited assumptions.
You want to launch a career. You want to begin a meaningful journey of adventure and discovery, where you go out into the world, try stuff, learn stuff, adapt, and keep moving towards something that feels like a mission or passion or at least not a prison sentence
How to begin?
The only two things that matter when it comes to launching a career
- Your ability to create value
- Your ability to convince others you can create value
That’s it. Nothing else.
You can call these two things skills and a signal of those skills.
Value creation (aka skills)
When it comes to gaining skills, the traditional approach is ridiculous. On the education conveyor belt, you learn almost no skills relevant to the market. You might learn a few abstract skills, and probably some habits that make you less valuable to the real world. This isn’t a surprise when you think about it.
Did you learn to ride a bike by reading about it and being tested by people who never rode one themselves? It’s unreasonable to expect a decade of lectures in cinder block classrooms under fluorescent lights to teach you anything useful about customers, products, companies, and opportunities in the market. Most professors barely know how to use email.
If you want to be an academic, it’s the way to go. If you want to launch a career outside of academia, you need to gain skills that are valued outside of academia.
The proof of skills (aka a signal)
The signal is what most people think they’re getting in return for debt and suffering. But they’re not. The degree does a bad job of conveying your ability to create value and everyone knows it. No one will send you a paycheck because you have a degree. You need to prove value creation in a more robust way. Most employers don’t know exactly what kind of signal to look for, hence arduous application and hiring processes. You’ve got to show them something undeniable.
The future is now
Say you had no historical or cultural baggage about education and careers. What would it look like, given tools we have today, if you set out to gain skills and a signal?
You’d want to start with self-discovery. There are infinite skills you could acquire that are valued by others. You need to narrow it down. You don’t want to do stuff you hate, and you don’t want to do stuff you suck at. You want to be in that nexus of stuff you don’t hate, stuff you don’t suck at, and stuff other people value.
Don’t stress. You’re not going to immediately find your one true sweet spot. That takes a lot of trial and error in the real world. What you do want, and can do, is eliminate a lot of things that are not a good fit.
Start by discovering a bit about your abilities and interests. Then discover what kinds of roles and opportunities exist for where those abilities and interests are valued.
Where your abilities and interests don’t overlap with opportunities, avoid those things. Everything else is fair game, and a viable step forward on your career launch journey. Go ahead and get your hands dirty!
How hard is it?
You have an idea of some possible starting points. Now you’ve got to find out what kind of skills are valued in those roles. Do you have those skills already? Do you need to beef them up? Do you need to acquire new skills?
There are probably a handful of things — not as many as you might think — you need to be able to create value early. You’ll probably have to improve your writing (schooled writing sucks), learn to use professional tools like email, calendars, and Slack, and one or two more specific things for a given role.
But you’re probably not far off. You have a lot of ability to create value for people that you don’t even realize. Everyone does.
Say you’re a kind person capable of talking to people. Those traits alone mean you can probably create value for a cool company in a customer service role, which is a great way to get started, learn about products and businesses, gain experience, hone your skill, and leverage it into your next career step.
So you might be able to create value, but can you prove it?
No degree or resume will convince people of this.
You need a tangible body of work that can show the world, “This is a skillset I have, and here’s the proof.” Show, don’t tell.
What might prove your ability to create value in a customer service role? How could you show your communication, judgement, and kindness?
What if you compiled a series of mock customer emails and your responses? A video of a friend playing an angry customer and you responding? Ten real customer questions you pulled from the Facebook page of the company you want to work with and your responses? You can think of many more examples.
Now people can see and interact with the proof of your ability to create value. A portfolio of projects that demonstrate what you can do speaks volumes, and cuts through the clutter of generic third-party credentials.
Depending upon where you are in your journey, you could gain and signal those skills in a matter of days, weeks, or months for very little cost. And it’s worth a lot more than a college degree when it comes to launching your career.
Enough suck. Crash your career.
(That’s why we built Crash, to help you discover where to start, gain the skills you need, build a profile to signal those skills, and launch your career with your first awesome opportunity. Feel free to join the early access waitlist.)