A career isn't what it used to be. Who has a job for life anymore? Who would want one anyway? Playing the new career game means learning new rules and making tough decisions. Should I take a job that pays less because it means more? Should I take a job I don't like to get skills I need? How do I know when it's time to go? We asked 14 business leaders, all with undeniably intriguing careers, to offer hands-on advice for moving ahead. Patty Stonesifer, once the highest-ranking woman at Microsoft, explains why following her heart meant leaving her job. Bill Haber, cofounder of Creative Artists Agency, describes how to stay put without staying in place. Superagent Leigh Steinberg offers five tips for cutting a great deal. Read these contributions and create your own game plan.
Vice President of Corporate Planning and Development, and CIO
Palo Alto, California
Don't pick a job. Pick a boss. Your first boss is probably the biggest factor in your career success. A boss who doesn't trust you won't give you opportunities to grow. A boss who's too easy on you won't drive you to improve. When you accept your first job, you're hiring a tutor to teach you about work. Be sure to hire wisely.
My first boss (when I was a 16-year-old theater doorman) taught me the basics of work: be honest. She hired new doormen at 45 cents an hour. But she'd always calculate their first paycheck at 50 cents an hour. If you reported the "error," you kept the job and stayed at 50 cents. If you didn't, you lost the job.
Over time, the most important skill for advancing your career is learning how to work to an agenda rather than to a schedule. A successful business person always kills more than one bird with one stone.
Figure out what needs to happen, then find ways to make it happen. A 30-second elevator exchange can be as productive as a one-hour meeting, but only if you know in advance what you need from the encounter.
William Raduchel's career has included senior positions at Sun, Xerox, and McGraw-Hill.
President and Chairman
Gates Library Foundation
I left a great job as head of interactive media at Microsoft for one reason: the passion was gone. My pocketbook, ego, and sense of excitement were being satisfied, but I no longer had passion for the challenges I faced each day. Lots of people thought I was crazy to walk away from it all. But I felt like a juggler — managing projects, budgets, and people — whose only mission was not to drop the ball. Eventually I found my dream job. It aligns my personal expertise and goals with an opportunity to put technology in the hands of people who otherwise wouldn't have access to it. No matter how high your career registers on the conventional charts, you've got to listen to your heart
At Microsoft, Patty Stonesifer built the world's leading consumer CD-ROM business and managed the company's investments in online content and services.
Founder, Vincent Enterprises
I've always based my career decisions on the quality of the people I'd be working with. At age 40, I was offered the job of president and CEO of Columbia Pictures, a troubled studio. I was making $47,500 a year as a lawyer with the Securities and Exchange Commission. I knew nothing about business, disliked the movies, and occasionally wore brown shoes with a blue suit. I was not exactly Hollywood material. Why did I say yes? How could I say no? Herbert Allen, Columbia's major shareholder, had confidence in my abilities — which was a huge motivator. It turned out to be the critical decision of my professional life.
Years later I made another major career decision, based largely on the esteem I had for the man offering me the job: Bart Giamatti. He asked me to become his deputy commissioner of baseball . When he died five months later, I became commissioner — despite my friends' advice against it. I took the job largely to carry out the plans Bart and I had developed. Things did not work out as hoped, but I have no regrets about my decision, and the brief period we had to work together was magical.
A few other thoughts: be realistic about your talents and the character of the people hiring you. Be clear about the consequences of failure. And be diligent in assessing the help you'll need. If you increase the odds of success, you'll create the confidence to make big leaps.
Fay Vincent served as the eighth commissioner of major league baseball.
President and CTO
A career needs consistency, especially when the world around you is changing so fast. So pick a high-order theme in which to excel, such as "everyday computing," "elegant user experiences," or "electronic communities," and stick with it. In the short term, lend your services to companies that share the same theme. More important, over the long term, align yourself with people who share it.
Most companies change priorities with the financial winds. Don't be surprised or take it personally when their goals start to diverge from yours. The key is to reconnect with a group of like-minded people.
Consistency brings you industry-wide respect. And as you mature through the phases of your career, it opens new and unexpected horizons. Jumping from fad to fad to get promoted quickly is neither satisfying nor sustainable.
Patrick Naughton is one of the creators of the Java programming language. He left Sun Microsystems in 1994 to join Starwave.
New York, New York
Be careful about getting too good at one thing. The world around you keeps changing, and if you can't change with it, you're in trouble. So develop ways to open your mind. Don't always read the same section of the newspaper first. Don't always visit the same Web sites. Look for adventure. If you feel as if you can't get much better at something, do something else.
That's why I left Wall Street in 1982, took a huge pay cut, and went to work for Ben Rosen's newsletter. I've been at the same "job" ever since. But I keep finding ways to do new things, to keep learning, and to have intellectual fun. Perhaps this hasn't been the best approach to my career. But I've enjoyed my life more. If you're not enthusiastic about your work, you won't be very good at it anyway.
Esther Dyson is one of the world's most influential commentators on technology and business.
An Income of Her Own
Santa Barbara, California
Don't take a job, make a job. That could mean starting your own company. It could mean identifying things that need to get done where you're working now. Whatever the form, the principle is the same: people who solve problems get the most opportunities. I learned this lesson when I joined Polaroid after getting a graduate degree in social work. I was not technology-oriented. I had a modest title, almost no budget, and (being a woman) little real power. But I had room to build relationships, take on interesting assignments, and experiment. I ended up starting a company that Polaroid spun out as a separate venture, which started me on my own entrepreneurial journey.
Joline Godfrey is the author of "No More Frogs to Kiss" (HarperBusiness, 1995). An Income of Her Own teaches entrepreneurship to teenage girls.
Special Advisor to the President
Save the Children
In his autobiography, Jean Paul Getty says that to become rich, you should change jobs 12 times between the ages of 21 and 35. I did the opposite. I stayed with the same company — Creative Artists Agency, which I cofounded — for 20 years. But I never let myself get stale, which I think is Getty's real point. And I became "rich" in ways that he perhaps didn't anticipate. There are lots of ways to avoid getting stale. Throughout my career I've kept a list of 100 life objectives, things I want to do before I die: fly an F-18, spend a night on a nuclear submarine, have tea at Buckingham Palace. I've managed to cross out half those items. Why do I keep such a list? It encourages me to reach out to people and experiences I would otherwise not know or have.
At CAA, when people were promoted, I would take them to lunch. I would get to know them. Find out where they came from and what they did. I always encouraged my agents to do the same. Try to make your life different each day, however you can. Drive a new way to work. Order something in a restaurant that you've never considered eating. Keep meeting new people. One word on careers and money: the less I've cared about money and commissions, the more money I've made. Make the right decisions for the right reasons and the right things will happen. Remember: He who dies with the most toys ... dies.
Bill Haber cofounded Creative Artists Agency with Michael Ovitz in 1975. In November he will open "The Scarlet Pimpernel" on Broadway.
Steinberg & Moorad
Newport Beach, California
If you want to play the new career game, you have to be a good negotiator. It's not a natural skill. But for talented people, in sports or business, this is a seller's market. Keep these five principles in mind before you sit across the table from your next employer.
- Know what you want before you ask. Are you looking for short-term gain or long-term security? How important, really, are the people you work with? What about the company's products and their impact on the world? Make a list of what matters.
- Figure out who's on the other side. Identify their priorities and goals. What are they trying to achieve? What pressures are they under? Do they have total authority? The more you know about the other side, the more power you have.
- If you want to be heard, make noise. Someone who wanted to work for the firm created a mock Sports Illustrated cover featuring him as "Employee of the Year." Someone else put together a newspaper with lots of funny comments. Sure, they were gimmicks, but they distinguished these candidates from a flood of applicants. And they were also signs of initiative and cleverness, which we find extremely important.
- You are somebody! The biggest obstacle to negotiating well is our inherent modesty. People are uncomfortable asserting their best attributes. So let other people sing your praises. Assemble compelling references and make sure your potential employer speaks with these people.
- Negotiations require confrontation. Any negotiation has its difficult moments. Don't let them trigger undue anger. Hold mock negotiations in which a colleague or family member plays the other side, and operate under a general paradigm of cooperation. The only thing that's certain about a negotiation is that it will lead to another negotiation, and then another.
Leigh Steinberg's many clients include NFL superstars such as: Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Drew Bledsoe.
Professor of Business Administration Harvard University
When I graduated from business school in 1973, almost everyone in my class flocked to Wall Street. I became a first-line supervisor in a paper mill in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I was the first MBA to hold the job, and I had no technical or engineering background.
Many people thought I had lost my mind. Why take a job that paid less money, required night-shift rotations, and guaranteed cold winters? Simple: the most important skill you can learn is how to manage people. And you can't learn how to manage people without managing people.
In this job I managed up, down, and sideways — even through work stoppages and grievances. I slept days and worked nights; slept nights and worked days. I made $1,130 a month when my Wall Street pals were making three times as much. It was the best career decision I've ever made.
Len Schlesinger's eight books include "The Real Heroes of Business ... and Not a CEO Among Them" (Doubleday Currency, 1994).
Corporate VP and General Manager, Information Systems Group, Motorola
Grow. Have fun. Keep these goals in mind and "getting ahead" will take care of itself. Too many people just pursue status or the big financial win. Or they take a job they don't like as a stepping stone. Those choices usually lead to failure and frustration. If you don't enjoy what you're doing, how can you do it well? And if you don't do your current job well, why would you expect cash and status from your next job?
In 1994, when Randy Battat left Apple Computer to join Motorola, he was vice president of the Macintosh Desktop and PowerBook Division.
President and CEO
Over the last 10 years I've held senior positions at four different companies. I might not be able to offer a formula for success, but here are some reality-tested guidelines from my career.
- No risk, no reward. A few years ago I left a secure position with McKinsey & Co. to rescue a South African company in financial distress. Some colleagues thought I was rash, but I turned the company around and had one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
- The smartest route between two points is not a straight line. Straight lines rarely get you where you want to go. Take a detour. Make a pit stop. The only experiences you'll regret are the ones you didn't have.
- You're never too old to learn. Always work with people who know more than you do. They're the best source of new skills, and they help you make great connections down the road.
Accrue Software helps companies analyze who's surfing their Web sites. Simon Roy is a devoted (wave) surfer.
Executive Vice President,
Marketing and Corporate Development, Playboy Enterprises
Focus. Understand what you do best and choose opportunities that will leverage those core capabilities.
That doesn't mean selecting from a narrow range of jobs. Over the last 30 years I've held a variety of jobs: fundraising for the Republican Party; president and COO of the New York office of Chiat/Day/Mojo advertising; a top post at Calvin Klein; and my current job at Playboy. In every job I've applied the same core skills: creating new products and taking them to market.
When you're making a dramatic career move, be clear about what you do well and then apply those skills to a broad range of industries and companies.
At Playboy, Robert Perkins provides strategic direction to maximize the company's global business opportunities.
Founding Partner, You&Company
Cofounder, Students for Responsible Business, Dover, Massachusetts
You learn where you fit in by not fitting in. You learn what you want to do by doing what you don't want to do.
My decision to leave the Harvard Business School, after 20 years there as a student and professor, was one of the toughest I've ever made. I was good at what I did. But I was also miserable. Leaving forced me to come to terms with who I wanted to be.
Now when I lecture at business schools around the world, I offer two pieces of advice. One, go for the money and the prestige. If you're offered a "big" job, take it. You might love it. But you might not find it as satisfying as you'd hoped, and it will be a jumping-off point for what you really want to do.
Two, keep your "switching costs" low. A career transition isn't always easy. And money isn't the only obstacle. Emotional switching costs are just as debilitating. For instance: is your identity tied up in the status of your job?
Don't get really good at something you don't want to do. Lily Tomlin said it best: "The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."
Mark Albion's sixth startup, You&Company, helps MBAs build purposeful work lives. His electronic newsletter, "Making a Life, Making a Living," reaches 75,000 students and executives.
Now, more than ever, people are responsible for inventing their own careers. Of course, most of us don't relish the prospect of fending for ourselves in a hyper-competitive environment. And few of us are brilliant self-promoters. But as Tom Peters argues in "The Brand Called You" (August:September 1997), the first step to creating a career is creating a brand — you. Your brand is your public identity, what you're trusted for. And for your brand to endure, it has to be tested, redefined, managed, and expanded as markets evolve. Brands either learn or disappear.
Here are three marketing moves to help you act like a brand.
- Make mistakes early and often. Try out lots of different options early in your career. Then watch the responses: how you feel, what the market values, what people appreciate about you. It's the only way to find work that's uniquely right for you. Think of it as the "definition phase" of new product development.
- Test the market — and yourself. For most jobs, especially those in the digital economy, there is no objective standard for being "qualified." If you and the team you're working with think you're qualified, you are. One of the best ways I've found to keep enhancing your qualifications — and fortifying your brand — is to build a network of talented people to think and grow with. Listen hard to the people you trust when they're responding to what you're doing.
- Be the brand. Don't jump on the "offer du jour." Great brands stand for something. What you do — and choose not to do — defines who you are. I try to devote 70% of my time to my "brand essence" — the work I'm great at. It's a joyful, liberating, and effective way to create a career. Have the courage not to veer off course.
It's simple, really. When what you do and care about is aligned with what the market wants and cares about, you've created a recipe for career success.
Lisa Gansky was founder and CEO of Global Network Navigator (GNN), the first commercial site on the Web. It was acquired by America Online in 1995. She speaks and consults on building brands in new markets.
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.