Reading Jason’s post on 8 things to craft your career and john’s on “can you tell me what your job is in 3 seconds” caused me to reflect back on some lessons I learned early in my career.
A very smart colleague at Booz-Allen gave me two simple rules to help me in guiding my career:
* Work on a business that is critical to the enterprise in which you work. Read the annual report of your company — does it talk about your business a lot, does it care about your business, does your business contribute a substantial profit to the enterprise? If so, the company will invest in and protect the business, and you will personally get support and challenges. If on the other hand the company doesn’t really care about your business — then you will be under-resourced, under-supported, and you may very well find your business shut down or sold some day.
* You can either make things, or sell things. These are the two sources of enduring value in a business. And I am using a broad definition of “make” — i mean you have to be involved in creating the core value of the business — whether that be making products or providing a service. These are the functions that have to happen no matter what in a business. Every other function is subject to the vagaries of internal politics, bureaucracy, cost-cutting pressures, and other unpredictable forces — and thus is it hard to control your career path.
Following these rules always presented me with opportunities, challenges, responsibilities, and chances for career mobility. A whole separate discussion can be had about whether you want an aggressively upwardly mobile career-building job at all points in your life — you probably don’t — but if you do, these are reasonable simple guidelines.