As a kid, I wanted to be a cop. And then an Air Force pilot.
But in high school, I discovered my love for business. My first taste was a program I enrolled in my junior and senior year. For half the day, I’d work at a local newspaper, handling the bookkeeping for the classifieds section.
Many people my age were only in it for some cash—but right from the start, I was fascinated by the world of business. I wanted to learn everything I could and explore every facet of it. Since then, I’ve worked in banking, recruiting, and eventually software.
I focused on being a generalist, not a specialist
Early in my career, people always told me to pick one trade and stick with it.
But I didn’t listen, because the prospect of staying in one field forever just didn’t interest me. I deeply value consistent growth and learning and expect every professional experience to be meaningful and challenging. And with those requirements in mind, before taking a new position, I carefully considered how any given route might shape my career path.
I cherished my time at Bank of America, where I grew from a college-kid teller to a branch manager to assistant vice president. But when I saw people who’d been there for 20 or 30 years–their entire professional lives, really–I knew I didn’t want to follow that path. As much as I loved that job and the people I worked with, I just couldn’t envision doing the same thing for so long.
After that realization, I began looking for new opportunities–and found them in lots of different places. I knew that building a career in one narrow field would never satisfy my professional hunger. I also decided that I wanted to eventually lead a company and felt that having a diverse background with different roles in a variety of industries would be a key differentiator.
A succession of strategic moves has led me down my varied career path. Here’s the advice, gleaned from my own experience, for anyone with a desire to branch out or change careers:
- Don’t be afraid to move for a job. My willingness to relocate took me to seven different cities, each wonderful in its own way. I gained countless unique experiences–plus I now have friends all over the world.
- But don’t job hop, either. I’ve never joined an organization without staying for at least a few years. When I seize a new opportunity, I focus intently on the company and industry. I push myself to achieve my goals and be the best I can be. That level of knowledge and mindset was critical to my understanding before I made another move.
- Nurture relationships wherever you go. Building off the last piece of advice, it takes time for lasting relationships to develop. I’ve got a list of people who trust me, and vice versa, because I showed them I was trustworthy over years of working alongside them. You can’t shortcut a relationship—you have to invest and earn the trust.
- Don’t take a job for the money. If you do, the satisfaction from the paycheck won’t last long, and you’ll still have to do a job you don’t love every day. When you’re looking for a new role, focus on the position, what you can learn, the company mission, and what you’ll be able to do next. And remember that, if you do a great job, more money will always come.
- Don’t take a job based on the prestige of the company alone. I once turned down an incredible offer from Google. Sure, the campus, the perks, the money, and the prestige were all very enticing. But the role wasn’t for me–I wouldn’t have been doing what I’m passionate about on a day-to-day basis. No regrets.
- Time things as well as you can. Ask yourself, “Is it the right time for me to join this company?” And conversely, “Is it the right time for this company to bring me on board?” For example, one great way to break into a new field is to work at a startup. When we launched Talent Rover, a Salesforce-based staffing and recruiting software company, many of our hires were people without any software experience at all. But that was okay, because they learned with us as we grew. But they may not have had that opportunity at an established company.
- Before taking a job, know why you want it. Do you want to learn and grow with that company over 5 or 10 years? Will the knowledge and skills you gain help you reach your ultimate professional goals? Always have a vision for your career down the line, and only take jobs that align with that vision.
- Find mentors. Executives are just people–but they’re busy people. If you build a relationship with someone, they will want to help you. But be respectful of their time. Use it well, and make sure you’re working to maintain the relationship.
Working in different fields has enriched my career in so many ways. I truly wouldn’t have had it any other way. And I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the people who suggested I should narrow my career path to one industry and job description.
My cross-industry experiences and skills served me incredibly well as I grew my leadership skills and became a CEO. In my mind, every great CEO should be a generalist with knowledge and experience in a number of areas of business. So to aspiring CEOs and founders, my advice is this: Be open-minded about every opportunity that presents itself but also thoughtful in your decision to take or pass up each one.