You’re about to graduate, and it seems like everyone has job advice for you or wants to know, “have you found a job yet?”
I wish that your well-intentioned advisors would stop asking the wrong question. After all, you’re not going to school and getting a degree to get a good job. I’d even argue that graduating from college shouldn’t center on getting that first job at all. If you approach things from that perspective, it’s highly unlikely you’ll experience long-term success. Here’s why.
Job vs. career
When you compare job prospects, it’s easy to get caught up in the immediate factors: salary, benefits, location, and signing bonus. Your advisors will tell you to look at these things. But you shouldn’t see a job as your objective. Your goal should be starting a career.
This might seem like semantics to you, but switching your mind-set from getting a job to establishing your career changes everything. Here’s a smart way that some MBA students put it: a career is long-term, requires strategy and is something you own. It’s something you actively manage throughout your working life.
Why you should choose your career like VCs choose investments
Try to think about your career through the lens of venture capitalists. VCs look for companies with raw ingredients to be great, and then they invest capital and expertise so that those companies have the best chance of success.
When VCs invest in startups, they know they’re investing for long-term returns. They have a simple but powerful rubric when considering companies to invest in–market, team, product. Just like a VC, you’re investing in your career. But unlike a VC, you’re investing in something much more valuable than capital: your professional life.
Tribe, brand, and domain
I personally like to consider the following rubric when I make career decisions–tribe, brand, and domain. The people you work with at the beginning of your career are the people you go through the trenches with. You get to know each other exceptionally well, and by definition, they become your tribe.
If a member of your tribe runs into an exciting career opportunity down the road, they’ll call someone they know and trust. Think about companies that were started by former PayPal or Google employees. These are people who continued to work together throughout their careers. When you’re going through the job-search process, meet with potential colleagues and your boss in interviews–not just HR and management. Ask yourself these questions: “Are these people I would choose to start a company with?” “Do they push me to work harder?” “Are these ‘my people’?” If the answer is yes, you’ve found your tribe.
The companies you affiliate with also become part of your brand. You’ve already chosen the brand of your alma mater; now it’s time to determine what other brands you will put on your resume. Sometimes, this means choosing to work at a company with strong brand recognition, and other times no one will have ever heard of them. As you consider your brand, ask yourself, “will I be proud to talk about this experience in the future?” You may be excited about the mission of the company, the product, the success–or maybe the recognizability of the brand. In any case, you have to be proud of it, because it will stick to you. And if you’re not proud of it, keep looking.
Lastly, the professional you is a set of layered capabilities and experiences. Not every job will provide you with everything you need to become a fully formed executive. You need to decide who you want to be professionally, what skills and experiences you need and how to accumulate them. Say that you want your domain to be an industry vertical, like retail. You would then strive to learn every aspect of that industry (branding, sourcing, logistics, merchandising) to become a well-rounded candidate for the executive level. You can also approach it horizontally, by gaining experience in different roles related to that function. For example, if you want to be a CFO, you’ll probably want to get experience in accounting, financial planning, and investor relations. Getting the right opportunities may involve changing roles, companies and even industries. But if you treat yourself like the architect of this journey, you’ll gain relevant experience to become the ideal candidate for your future career.
Yes, most of you will end up accepting a job after graduation, but don’t make that the be all and end all. Remember that your career journey is a marathon, not a sprint. By using tribe, brand, and domain as a guiding principle, you can make decisions that lead to long-term success in your professional life.
Dave Boyce is the Chief Strategic Officer of InsideSales.com.