Monday, December 12, 2016

Career Tips Today From an Old Timer?

Would my career tips be worth a jott in today's app and big data driven world?  Or are my generation a weak link between the semi digital, nine-to-five past and the cloud sharing economy of the very near future?

Well the fact is that a career will still exist, although there is now a lot of pressure for the form of that work-employee-contractor status to change, really much of this is reinventing the wheel and mediating it via mobile phones. Essentially, value will still be created in its significant form via organisations, and those will still need intellect and management.

I choose a route I regret a little now, having a portfolio career and becoming a consultant, now finding it quite a lonely place with obvious uncertainties. The nature of employment and corporate law is that the world is becoming more uncertain as the Neo Liberal era goes through its dieing throws and reinvents itself as something which democracy will probably overthrow. Hence Brexit and Trump, and watch this political space because it will affect your ability to earn and have a work-life balance. Organisations will always need talent, but in my experience very often those in management are there because they had luck or pushed a little more at the right times to get up the ladder.  That ladder is a rarer thing as we go into yet more flat structures and what used to be departmental becomes compartmental ie single layer of workers use the tools of IT to manage and take responsibility for operations with a shorter chain of command.

How do you perhaps get on and what advice (take it or leave it) do I have ?

1) Experience Can Count for Qualifications , but often Not At All.....

It is really that the RIGHT experience can count for a mountain of qualifications. That is an experience which is highly respected or puts you in a position of power. The best example of course, is starting your own company - most of the Billionaires in computing, software and apps didn't start with a PhD or an MBA, they had an idea or two and found customers. In fact several never finished their degrees.

2) Get in Early to Something Big

This is what quite a few of the entrepreneurs above, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and laterly, Mark Zuckenberg had the fortuity to be in - on the cusp, riding the crest of a wave, on the brink of explosive growth. There was a lot of fortuity in what they were into in a nerdy way, and what the market wanted in a latent sense.

Ok we all can't be Richard Branson but we can find those companies which are on the cusp of something new and exciting and get in there at the right time. Too early ? Well you may not get any pay back if you are in too early but then again you may be able to use that to get out to a competitor or move into another high growth company. Investors act like this, investing via venture capital in a spread bet over several companies in a sunrise industry.

Think of your time as a young person as investment from which you will get a greater return, and those 12 hour days and weekend hours  you put in then, will pay dividends in getting up the ladder with this as your launch pad. However you need to get the right type of job which is of above average value, and that means either being involved in creation (R&D) where you can put your name on something so to speak, or being a person who becomes a people manager early on.

3) Don't hang Around Too Long Sometimes< Other Times Stick Like Glue

I have experienced the downside of being in Tech Start ups where I have either been a dropped in consulttant or discovered as a 'hire' I was very much outside the A team. Most of all for the first three years out of my masters I tried to hold onto rubbish opportunities and work 'that year on the CV'.

Eventually I worked for a really interesting full service technology marketing agency, but while there a couple of years I noticed that I was the employee in project management and new clients who stayed on, the others fell away after less than a year very often. I felt I had to make a go of a job after three years of false starts, and enjoyed the work. The others got less interesting positions and clients and they got out very quickly. Two of the many who left, got much better jobs which I believe they stayed at for many years.

It is very much a feature of successful people be they employees or entrepreneurs, that they admit their mistakes and cut their losses getting out early. A lot of people take a first graduate job in one or other also ran, unknown branded companies, and treat it just as work experience and a spring board to the next job. Zuckenberg wanted a kind of on line girl rating, beauty pageant and dating app and when he saw the light of 'political correctness' became a multimillionaire on a year's work and making the right connections - he dumped his first, unlovely idea.

Which brings us to....

4) Always be Applying for Jobs and Looking for New Opportunities

There will be less job security in the ongoing political climate across the west, because the right wing want to reduce costs and make us work harder via insecurity rather than positivity. So if you work for an insecure, pushy boss culltured company or department, get the hell out! Many companies don't subscribe to fear makes work, they know the real motivation and productivifty comes from engagement and employees who have a work-life balance.

Job security is really a figment of the imagination nowadays for we of the mere mortals, and even chartered accountants are quaking in their boots as the new generation of leaders finally seek to automate much of what should have been automated in the 1980s when it was first possible!  We are all subject to take overs, cut backs, customer volatility, exchange rates and the whims of bosses and investors. Jobs then are just RELATIVELY safe, and if we see an environmental pressure on a company then it is time to get out early, that is where the smarty pants will., This is true of industries, with many of my former colleagues in Oil and Gas smooching their way into unrelated industries before the death knell tolled.

Always looking for new jobs has two other effects on promotion. One you can find opportunities to get promoted outside your company, and two you can use a job offer as a lever to get promoted. As I blogged on before, employees usually think they have a poor set of cards in the poker game of getting a job and a salary rise, and it seems that the risk of withdrawing their labour lies predominantly on their shoulders. Hence in the deunionised western office world, employers hold their poker face and will call you before you call them. In reality, very often you have very specific qualifications and experience which got you the job and the knowledge and experience you have of working there makes you uniquely productive. Bosses have targets for turn over, so as I found out when I was emmigrating anyway, they will offer quite a lot suddenly to keep you on when you resign.

Open applications with a personal follow up call are a really effective way of moving job either externally, or if handled correctly, internally. It is no mystery that interesting companies and exciting opportunities are often never advertised, while those positions which are are either hard to fill or they are looking for the cheapest in the trawl.

Companies are increasingly run on quarter-capitalist lines, and when they are buzzing away in a growth phase, then is the time to get a job offer as a lever to promotion. Alternatively when a company is struggling, then it is a great time to spot this early and have a plan B, which may become your plan A very shortly. When you are an employee then it is understood by the prospective employer that there will be a period of cessation under contract, and they may want to look at the open market of ready to go first, so it can take up to two months or more to get an offer from the outset of first interview. It can be wise to refer ' I will need to check my contract' on cessation such that you can keep your options a little open.

5) Recognise the GOOD opportunity from the BAD

This really applies to all the above scenarios and the ones below by in large. It is my greatest weakness in working life as an employee, yet a strength as a consultant now because I see my earlier failings. All jobs have some shit in them, but it is really how doing the whole job, dotting the i's and crossing the t's as well as the more interesting stuff, builds your position as in standing and respect in a company contra just being an eager beaver minion.

I have been a victim myself of 'imposter syndrome' where in one job I had with a multi national, I had a great level of responsibility as a project manager with upto 13 poeople working for me at anyone time and me conducting the orchestra, yet I felt it was all a bit scary and almost an out of body experience. I was treated with loads of respect and  that made me more nervous for crashing and being shown up as an imposter. I tackled it really pretty well, with only one minor fiasco which was mainly on the part of the client. After that I setteled a little more into my shoes, but had decided to move to be with my girl freind unfortunately! I should have stayed, because the girl went bad!!!

A good situation would include being trusted with incresing levels of responsibility and tackling the job with a minimum of overtime. A bad situation would be drowining in tedious operational work, and like a labour of Sysiphus, you work more overtime for diminishing producitivity. Worse, you get recognised by the users above you as a nice little work horse for doing their menial work. GTFO - get the fuck out- is the course of action for all but the masochists. Renegotiating your work load can be an option of course, but you need to have somethingn to bargain with and that is often just withdrawing your labour ie nuclear war. You never know, moaners often get their own way with those neurotic bosses concerned about staff turnover or productivity gains acheived via experience on the job. If you dont see it is crap, and ask for change, you will get more of the same!

A bad situation is usually typified by a company losing customers or struggeling to find more. This also applies to start ups, because most tech start ups fail not because of lack of investment, but because of lack of income from customers.  Essentially that is the difference between the also rans and the Facebooks, Microsofts and Apples of the world. Soft capital is a bad place relative to this because as I have seen several times, where the drive to get income from customers is lost in bullshit and doing R&D with 'partners' rather than delivering a product nbased on entr5epreneruial savvy.

Good situations are driven by a variety of factors. Firstly companies with a healthy economy, or the right reshaping opportunity for your skills to play a part in. Customers, markets and investors are important too, as are then the core offer and R&D pipeline., Very much though it is down to who 'buys' you and works with you above and around you. Which brings us to

6) FInd a King Maker or Be a King Maker

Internally to companies you are promoted not by some mysterious personnel assessment or a computer algorythm, it is your boss or some other boss you work with who gives you the nod. Sometimes you of course have to ask or you won't get, other times you get asked in for a chat in 'my office' with a smile and get offered promotion out of the blue. Conversely Many line managers will be little bitches who want to keep you down in your hole, and take the glory for themselves, and they are easy to spot, you never get a profile via them and are kept out of interesting / important meetings where your work is on display or of high relevance. How do you get round the little pricks when you are really performing? Well you make sure that other bosses know you are actually the one doing the work and get integrated into the chain of information and instruction, take ownership away from your boss over time.

A boss who recomends you for promotion, or puts you in a positiion you can shine in further outward in the company. They recognise your work, praise you and give you enough latitude to be visibile in the company. Part of this is just getting on with them, but mostly it is on your ability to cooperate and be productive in your own right. Kinbg makers then trust you and want to shove you forward - often they have a safe job and a family, and see you will be able to move on upwards in a company.. Sometimes they may be retiring.

More importantly, they may be moving company to an exciting opportunity and take you with them.  One thing to realise, is that there is no lack of investment in the world, and all my cynicism of thye rich owning property over for choosing industry is not to be overplayed, there are philanthropic investors all over the place who want to create value, jobs and return on outlay in a patient way, or with some strings attached. Following an experienced boss out to a new start up can be great if they are the right personbaoloty or have been there in the growth phase.

Being a king maker is maybe a much rarer opportunity for the older manager, who can then follow that King into new departments or ventures. It couold be also that you are tightly together with an entrepreneur when they go big, and get the recognition as an A team player. It can be worth swallowing your pride and allowing a more energetic person to lead the way, with in fact you  and others carrying them on your shoulders. Of course you can be following after an egotistical nut who will dump you without any recognition or payback.

7) Go Ugly Early

A lot of the above I have talked about the fast careers in start ups or glamerous corporates. very many leaders in those companies have been there in the big growth phase, and had their own little ling makers and so on., However the majority of people managers I have worked for  directly have had one thing over me and that is experience of peoplke managment per se in something vaguely related. And very unglamerous.

Going ugly early is a terrible kind of disco strategy from the 1980s, made redundant by Tinder swiping. It meant not bothering to seek out a particularly attractive girl or boy, rather going for the sure bet of getting interest and potential 'escalation' shall we say towards a one night stand.  In corporations there are thousands of small business to business brands and suppliers  no one outside that supply chain has really heard of, or which you see on the side of lorries or equipment, or office blocks in public. They attract their own stream of anonymous MBA 'europyuppies' in the EU who take early management positions at different locations upin the beck and call of their masters. By the time they are thrity they are highly experienced line managers, often with 'change management', 'Lean' and 'six sigma' on their CVs and they become the well paid middle management we love to hate in the EU. Often egotistical and rather uncharismatic. So there are lots of ugly, faceless businesses looking for expecially MBA candidates, but also people with relevant operational experience to put into fresh management positions.

These companies themselves are not very profiled or 'charismatic' and so they can often have a pretty rapid promotion to middle management too, as someone coming in with other operational or junior management experience.

8) Go Public Sector

One thing I note amongst a great deal of the very politically Neo Liberal inclined, is that a great many of them either work in public service or are paid pretty much solely by the government. And they are doing nvery nicely on it too.

The public sector is bound to have further rounds of privatisation and deunionisation now in the US and the UK, but there are always new areas to get into either side of the fence which are promising and offer a better degree of job security for managers than the usual corporate world.

Very often though the public sector demands the exact right set of qualificatioins to get in, such as in teaching or environmental health for example, but they will invest in keeping you qualified more than the lean and mean private sector.

Privatisation actually breaks this need for the right set of qualifications down a little too, so all is not bad for the indifvidual looking to shape a career with a smidgeon more job or career security

9) Be Super Qualified

Although there is often a bad side of being percieved as over qaulified, for a good graduate career you need to be super qaulified.

The ticket to being a manager as I have said, is the MBA, but that has to be from a school recognised by your employers of interest. However there are other more specialist or modular routes which gain a lot of respect. For example some ( and mostly they are self serving) marketing directors demand that you have a chartered inst. of marketing diploma and participate in courses. Other industries havbe 'chartered' status of course> engineering, architecture, accountacy, surveying.

In outset many companies now 'demand' a higher technical qualification than a bacherlors with honours. Sometimes these are specific to skills and areas of research nut bvery often in my meeting of people, a masters or PhD is arbitarily demanded or part of the culture. I wish I had ten quid for every PhD twit who I uncovered as having actually spent four years researching something tedious and unrelated to the tech company

I dont regret not being an MBA or PhD but it would have helped a lot with the culture when I was an also ran and not in a king making situation.

Maybe I should have just gone ugly early, instead of going ugly ratherr late in my middle age after working with a lo9t of excitign companies before!

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