Career Advice for the Supremely Talented

Originally published by Robert Hatta on February 21, 2017.

In my role as Talent Partner at Drive Capital, I match supremely talented people with jobs in our portfolio companies.

A few weeks ago, I spent time with one such supremely talented person. She’d graduated at the top of her class from a prestigious university and, later, law school. Her track record since is nothing short of stellar. She has all the qualities tech startups look for — intelligence, intensity, adaptability and grit. She can do anything she wants. The problem is that she can do anything she wants.

Therein lies the struggle: supremely talented people aren’t looking for jobs. They are looking for companies. More specifically, they are looking for companies solving meaningful problems, full of inspiring people and high-impact opportunities.

Most people don’t think this way. When asked where they want to take their career, I usually hear functional role descriptions or job titles. But when I ask them to describe a project or professional outcome they are most proud of, I get a totally different answer. They tell me about the super smart people they worked with, the hard problems they solved and the impact of their work. Often, their tone and body language shifts noticeably. They lean in.

To recreate those moments of career joy, I advise job seekers to instead become company seekers. To become company seekers, you must first articulate what you’re looking for in three buckets: people, problems and payoff.

It’s all about the people

Anyone can describe the sort of colleagues they enjoy working with — high performing, collaborative, and transparent are words I often hear. What are the qualities you want in your next boss and co-workers? Name former colleagues or managers that have these qualities. Where do they work now? Are they hiring?

You can also look for companies on Glassdoor whose employees describe their culture, referencing values that resonate with you. The famous Netflix Culture Deck is not so much an HR document as it is a recruiting tool. Check out culturecodes.co for a sampling of hundreds of companies who’ve published similar culture manifestos. Today there are lots of ways to identify companies full of the people that will motivate and inspire you.

What keeps you up at night?

Does it drive you nuts that visiting the doctor is like stepping into a technology time machine back to 1987? Then a company like CrossChx will excite you. Have you or has someone in your family been touched by addiction? Triggr Health is using cutting edge technology to keep addicts in long-term recovery. Does it drive you crazy that car insurance is priced using your credit score instead of your actual driving ability? Root Insurance uses your actual driving behavior to set premiums.

There’s a reason every tech startup says they are changing the world. That’s because smart, talented people need to connect with a bigger purpose than just making stuff, selling stuff and getting paid. Identify the problems you care about solving in the world.

The real payday is not what you think it is

Getting paid is important, but it’s not the most important thing when evaluating career opportunities. It’s not even the second most important factor. A recent study by Glassdoor found that compensation and benefits ranked sixth, representing less than 15% of the relative contribution to job satisfaction.

When I talk about payoff, I’m talking about meaningful impact toward building something big. People beam when they describe tangible outcomes for which they were responsible. I still have a plaque commemorating our millionth subscriber at Netflix (which is funny when you consider that Netflix has over 90 million subscribers now).

Want to have impact and feel like your work matters? Focus on companies at a stage where your work can be felt across the whole organization.

Any job will do

This exercise of thinking in these three buckets helps articulate what drives and motivates you. That can be very powerful not just in finding companies to target, but also in presenting yourself to them. Driven and motivated people can be persuasive in getting jobs for which they aren’t obviously qualified or even creating jobs that don’t currently exist.

Spend some time asking yourself what sort of people, problems and payoff drive and motivate you. You’ll find that it’s easier identifying a great job after you’ve found a great company first.

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