The Hard Truth about Career Advice

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Over the last three years, I’ve had at least one thousand “career chats” with people of all backgrounds, experience levels, and interests. The truth is, everyone thinks they need custom career advice based on their situation, their degree, and their personal interests, but most career advice can be boiled down to three simple things, regardless of your field, goals, and interests.

If you want to get promoted, you must outwork, outhustle, or outsmart your peers. Period. I can’t tell you how many people get frustrated with their lack of career progression based on tenure. “I’ve been in my role for X years and I deserve to be at the next level.” The harsh truth is that the time you spend in a role doesn’t pay the bills for your business or move the needle for your customers; your contributions do. So instead of focusing on the grave injustice of two years without a promotion, focus instead on how you can create outsized impact on your customers, prospects, or employees. In my experience, that’s extremely hard to do without outworking, outhustling, or outsmarting folks in similar roles to yours.

So, where do you start? First, take a step back and ask yourself what you could be doing to create an outsized impact on your organization, not just what you’re currently doing or what’s in your job description. Chances are, there are ways to increase the effort, urgency, or innovation you’re exerting to solve the problems facing your business, so create a game plan far less focused on hours spent and far more focused on impact created. People underestimate their ability to change their career situation by simply altering their mindset. Really think about how you can spend the next six months excelling in the impact you create versus checking the boxes on a job description — adjusting your mindset and approach can have a direct impact on your ability to grow within your organization.

Just Do It

If you want to do something new, don’t talk about it — do something about it: The average person changes jobs 12 times throughout their career and that number will likely only increase over time. In addition to switching companies, more and more people also want to change their career path and role, and often set up countless informational interviews as they consider a switch. I think people spend way too much time talking about a career switch and not enough time acting upon their interests.

If you want a role in product, build something. If you want to be an engineer, start by taking some basic coding classes. If you want to be a marketer, brand yourself and your approach exceptionally well. If you want to be a sales professional, sell your own services to show you’ve got the skills to make the jump. The best leaders I know are far more likely to hire someone with a bias toward action than a bias toward discussion.

When it comes to showing a bias for action, you don’t to quit your job or enroll in full-time graduate school to demonstrate your interest. But far too many people want companies or people to place a bet on them in a new role without deciding if they actually like or excel at it first. To that end, attend an event for professionals in your new desired field, enroll in a free online class to better understand it, then try building a basic website, posting your first blog post, or volunteering to do sales support in your current company to get your feet wet. You get the benefit of experiencing the reality of a new role before making an official switch, and your employer or future employer gets to see what you’re capable of and place a more calculated bet on your job switch, a win-win for your end goal and for your likely success if you make the jump.

Do Your Homework

The best people I’ve ever worked with are lifelong learners and students of their profession. If you expect other people to do your homework for you, you’re doing it wrong. Take the time to identify the most innovative people doing the roles you want and deeply research the content they share online, their backgrounds, their recommended reading, and their teams is the ultimate sign of respect for both your desired path and for people you want to learn from. Don’t expect other people to do the work for you if you want to join a company or take on a new role.

I ask almost everyone who interviews at HubSpot how they learn and grow, and whether it’s by being a voracious reader, a frequent attendee at local events, taking classes online or in person, or being a part of peer learning communities, I want to work with people who follow Satya Nadella’s framework of being “learn it alls” versus “know it alls.” So before you ask for your next promotion, ask yourself what you’ve done to expand your own horizons, challenge your own assumptions, and improve your craft — the best leaders I know are never content with what they currently know and do their homework on the people, careers, jobs, roles, and skills they wish to emulate long before making the jump.

Most career chats aren’t career chats at all — they are requests for affirmation that you’re on the right track or that the jump you’re looking to make is a plausible one. The reality is most people know what they should do to advance their career or make a switch, but fear of rejection, of approval, of failing, or of conviction stands in their way.

The truth is, career advice isn’t as complicated as people make it — you have to outwork, outhustle and outsmart the people around you. That means showing not just telling about your interest in pursuing something new, and doing your homework to close the gap between your ideas and your reality. So next time you plan to ask someone ‘What can I do to grow my career?’, ask yourself first. Chances are, you already know the answer.