Accidental Career Guidance

Most career advice isn’t very helpful.

Follow your passion but take the safe route but remember that you’re lucky to even have a job…

I say this as someone who has sought out career advice on countless occasions throughout my professional life from a wide range of sources.

The reason giving and/or receiving career advice is so difficult is because very few people have a “normal” career path. Trying to emulate what someone else did to get where they are most likely won’t get you to the same place.

Plus there’s the fact that so much of what transpires career-wise can be impacted by unexpected relationships, networks, decisions, or the randomness of life. I would never have dreamed starting a blog would change the course of my career but here I am.

On this week’s podcast, Michael and I discussed a reader question about hitting the reset button on your career in asset management. I get a lot of questions like this sent to my inbox. I also get a lot of questions from those just starting out in the industry or from college students or people looking to start a business and the list could go on.

I try to offer some perspective based on my experience or what I’ve read or advice I’ve received from others. Many people over the years have followed up with how things have worked out (both good and bad).

So while I’m no expert, here are a few nuggets I’ve shared over the years based on what I’ve learned:

Don’t try to precisely plan out your career. I always hated the ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ question in job interviews. Life is too unexpected to be able to answer this question. Trying to make specific things happen by a certain date or point in your life is a great way to set yourself up for disappointment in the future. In five years the best I can hope for is that I look back at myself and realize how much more I had to learn (and repeat that every five years).

Passion is overrated. I’ve learned passion is something you can grow into. I’ve grown passionate about the markets and writing over the years but my foray into this stuff didn’t begin as a passion project. Passion tends to follow good results.

Don’t try to copy someone else’s career. Sure, you could invert someone else’s career to figure out how they got to where they are (and where you’d like to be). But trying to copy what someone else did in their career is like posting selfies on Instagram and assuming it makes you one of the Kardashians. You have to understand more than what decisions people made to get where they are. You have to understand the reasoning behind those decisions:

  • Why they took a pay cut to work for a certain firm.
  • Why they decided to switch industries.
  • Why they chose a training program at a huge firm at the outset of their career.
  • Why they decided to take a risk to start their own business.

There are no bad jobs when you’re just starting out. Most young people starting out in the workforce are miserable because they’re not working for their dream company or doing exactly what they’d like with their career. Sometimes this stage in your career is where you learn what you don’t want to do or the types of people you don’t want to work with. The process of elimination can be useful early on in your career.

Give it time. It took me a number of years in some instances to fully grasp many lessons from my early on in my career. I learned so many things I didn’t even realize I was learning at the time because I needed more experience to understand what I should have been paying attention to.

Be specific. When I was looking for a job right out of college I made the mistake of flooding the market with my generic resume and cover letter in the hopes that someone would give me a shot. This is a terrible way to find a job because that’s what everyone else does. It’s easy for an employer to ignore you when you don’t put in the time to research the industry, company, people, and role you’re applying for. Send out a handful of carefully crafted, company-specific resumes and cover letters that show you put in the time and effort rather than blasting every opening with the same old message as everyone else. Tailor your message if you want to get noticed.

Build your network. Networking is one of those things like sales that many people shy away from. But a good network is by far your best chance at finding a role at a company or industry that’s difficult to break into. Do some research on people in companies you want to work for and ask them out for coffee or lunch (and always pick up the tab). If that doesn’t work send an email. Ask people questions. People love to talk about themselves and share their own story. The worst thing that can happen is someone ignores you or says no.

Learn how to ask for a favor the right way. Don’t just email people out of the blue and ask them to help you. Do your research first. Show them you’ve put in the time and effort. Show them you’re appreciative of their time. They still may blow you off but every little bit helps.

Get your foot in the door somehow. If you’re stuck in a job with nowhere to go you can always jumpstart things by going back to school or getting a professional designation. There are also worse things in the world that finding a huge company who will put you through a training program or pay for continuing education even if you don’t plan on staying there for the remainder of your career. Continuing the learning process shows new or current employers you care about self-improvement.

Give yourself a diversification of opportunities. If you’re truly stuck in a dead-end job now is a great time to dabble on the side or experiment in a side hustle. You can test the waters in your free time without quitting your day job to get a better sense of how your skills would translate doing some work on the side or even starting your own business. Technology has leveled the playing field these days to discover if your hobbies or outside interests can actually work as a legitimate business idea.

You might fail by going this route. You also might learn some things about yourself. The more chances you take the more opportunities you give yourself for something to eventually work in your favor.

Further Reading:
What They Don’t Teach You in Business School
My Letter to Young Analysts


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