How to boost your career in a ruthless job market | Neil Irwin


The idea of a tour of duty is a concept that’s
existed for a long time in the military and the diplomatic world. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, first
applied it to the corporate world. And I think it’s a really useful concept. The idea is, when you sign up for job, you’re
not turning up for some indefinite term of service. You’re not going to do the same job for 20,
25 years. What you’re saying is, “I’m going to do this
job and take on this project that might take two years, three years, however long it may
be, and after that, we’ll re-evaluate.” And you’re providing a certain commitment
to the employer, the employer is providing a certain commitment to you. It’s not forever, though. And it’s kind of being honest about the fact
that jobs aren’t forever. I tend to think of it as what I call the three-year
itch, building on the tour of duty concept. First year, you start a new job, you’re just
trying to learn the ropes, figure out how to do it well. Second year, you’re hitting your stride, you’re
doing well. By the third year, you have to train yourself
to have this three-year itch, start to look around and say, how can I explore the next
option? It doesn’t necessarily mean changing employers. It doesn’t even necessarily mean changing
jobs. It’s saying, “O.K., three, maybe four or five
years has passed, I really need to make sure I’m broadening my experience and gaining something
other than just doing the same job over and over again.” So I think I grew up hearing the term career
ladder. And I think it’s something we’ve all heard. You start in a job, you start as a junior
associate or whatever the title is, and you work your way up to associate, to director,
to vice president, to whatever your ambitions may be. And that’s fine. There’s certainly those hierarchies that still
exist in most companies. But what I’ve found is that it’s really important
to think of it as not just a ladder, but a lattice, so a grid. And it’s not just about moving up, it’s also
about moving sideways, sometimes even moving down slightly. I think the key is cutting across different
types of technical specialty and understand how they fit together. It’s not just about, if you’re a marketing,
person becoming the very best marketing person. It’s becoming the very best marketing person
who also understands the technology, the engineering, the finance, the strategy, how those pieces
fit together in a modern organization. If you can’t do that, you’re not even that
good a marketing person. You’re not going to get to that top rung because
you haven’t made those lateral moves and understood how the pieces fit together. So the best thing about being new into the
workforce, new into the corporate world, is that you have a lot of room to grow, and you’re
not so established that you can’t really jump around. And the thing about becoming more senior is
those sideways leaps on the career ladder are a lot riskier and a lot more dangerous. If you fall down, it’s going to hurt a lot
more. When you’re at lower levels, it’s actually
less of a risk to raise your hand and volunteer for some team that’s out of your comfort zone
in a different department, to embed with a different group, to sign up for a special
project that an executive wants done. You can take those team those assignments
and those risks without too much risk, if it goes bad, that you’re in a terrible spot. So I think it’s actually a wonderful place
to be. I think the key is having the courage and
the ability to really raise your hand and say, I want those opportunities. Part of working at an organization, it’s not
just the pay and benefits they pay you, it’s also the experiences they give you and how
they will set you up for the future. And I think, earlier in your career, you’re
not making that much money, the difference between a small raise or not is not as big
as, are you at a place that is letting you grow, that is letting you expand your horizons
and become the person who can ultimately rise to the top of that lattice, not be stuck at
lower levels. It’s true that employers can get frustrated
that people are restless and want to move on and move around, but I think they really
have only themselves to blame if you look at what’s happened in corporate America in
the last generation or so. It used to be that if you started at a big,
profitable, successful company, and kept your nose clean, kept your head down, you could
work there for an entire career, and be in good shape. Even if there was a recession or a slump in
business, they would really try hard not to do layoffs, not to cut people back. But I think what we see now is a much more
ruthless form of capitalism, where if you’re not needed anymore, if your skills are no
longer what the company needs, if your business unit has a slump, if there’s a recession,
you will be laid off. And I think when employees and workers are
saying, well, I’m not going to have a lifelong commitment to this employer, it’s because
they know the employer will not have a lifelong commitment to them. And I think this idea of reciprocity is tremendously
important in an employment relationship. If your employer is the kind that really takes
care of you and gives you lots of leave if you have a kid, and lots of educational benefits
if you want to go back to school, things like that, that’s one thing. If they’re the kind who are going to cut you
loose the minute things are going rough, that’s not the kind of place you want to be, or at
least not the kind of place you want to have any loyalty to in the opposite direction. I think the first thing that makes a good
employee-employer relationship is honesty, a sense that there’s a straightforward understanding
of, this is what this company does, this is our vision, this is what we’re trying to do,
this is how you as the employee fit in it. And I think what where things can go wrong
sometimes is when there’s this kind of misplaced sense of, we’re a family, we’re with each
other forever. That’s really not how it is. A career is not like a marriage, it’s like
a series of hookups. And I think if you have misplaced expectations
on either side– on either the employer or the employee side– that’s where a lot of
friction and unhappiness can really result. You know, I titled this book “How to Win in
a Winner-Take-All World,” not how to make the most money in a winner-take-all world,
not how to become a CEO. And the reason is, there are a lot of different
forms of winning, a lot of different forms of success. And I’m not going to sit here and tell you
exactly which should be that form for you. Maybe it is becoming a CEO or a top executive. Maybe it is making millions and millions of
dollars. But maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s finding a career that’s challenging,
and rewarding, and satisfying, but allows you enough time to spend time with your family
and really have a rich home life. Maybe you have hobbies or side interests that
you want to be able to pursue. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those. I think the key is being thoughtful about
what your real purpose is, and what your real drive is, and making sure that the career
choices you make — the kinds of organizations you work for, the kinds of skills you cultivate
— are aligned with that broader set of interests, and not just letting it happen by accident
because, oh, well, you know, “I’m supposed to want to get a promotion and make more money,
so that’s what I have to do.” Be thoughtful about it.

34 thoughts on “How to boost your career in a ruthless job market | Neil Irwin

  1. Big Think, but why not also address the problems that the new employee is going to be faced when their new supervisors are a member of a particular party, secret society or a tongue speaking religion, how they must react in their new situation ?????

  2. Neil Irwin made some good points in the video which is very timely. It is all business; nothing personal.

  3. 'be thoughtful about it' is nice, when you don't have to worry about where your money comes from if your employer can cut you in an instant

  4. As long as you are playing by their rules, you will keep loosing.
    Or worse, become like them. Be Your Own Mensch.

  5. Capitalism, capitalism, capitalism Blah, blah, blah. What unique, big ideas. Good thing we as a society haven't been obsessed with the concept for the last 200 years or these endless videos of the same tired concepts would become unbearably stale, and painfully indicative of the sort of funding that this channel has become addicted to.

  6. If I get reincarnated I’d like to be a trust-fund baby….but I’m probably gonna come back as a turtle.

  7. I wouldn’t say it is less risky when you are young. While it’s true you can explore, you also have to realize your eco-system. Some companies want ppl behaving a certain way when they are hired. Ppl are encouraged to keep their head down so that management doesn’t spend time training you. What this guy is talking about is startups.

  8. Richard Wolf, the economist, is more realistic at explaining the job market. While I haven’t seen career advice from him, I get a better sense on how to view employers and how to steer my career.

  9. Dude speaks truth. I've known one guy graduate from law school (no law license) and somehow oversees the audit for the state b/c he became a whiz at excel. I also know of a facilities manager (keeping up the day to day maintenance of a facility) and became a data manager thru grit.

  10. There is one thing he left out. Always have a backup plan. If you you are working in a field where it can be outsourced you may find yourself out of work with little to no prospects in finding work. This is when a goo backup plan can make the difference of doing well or sinking.

    An examples,

    If you are a more technical or hands on kind of person it does not hurt to learn some business skills. If you find yourself laid off the business skills could help you form your own company doing what you like. Even if the business does not succeed it is valuable work experience that can help you find work and if the job market doe turn around in a few years you still have value to get back in it in some form.

    Also, be prepared to reinvent yourself. The more knowledge you have of how different fields work the easier it will be to reinvent but most of all plan with the assumption that someday you will get laid off and the economy will so bad that the work you have been doing is outsourced to other countries or replaced by something else.

    Learning a foreign language that can be useful. If you are in high tech then Hindi and Chinese

    would put you in demand of companies that have outsource and foreign companies that need Americans as a link to the US companies.


    I worked at a company that I thought would be the last place I would ever work at. I wanted to make my self indispensable to them so they wouldn't eve n consider lying me off. The founder of the company like me and treated me well. The people there were great and it was fun exciting work too. Then we were bought out by a larger company which poor money into what we did. It got even better than I could of imagined. A year after we were bought out the company that bought us got bought out. This bigger company liked what the other company did except that there was this one part which did something that didn't fit in their business plan. Even though we were making money the bigger company laid virtually everyone off including the founder of that company. It was also at a time when all the work in that field was being sent overseas so there was nothing to be had. There were no job listings in the want ads. Even trying to learn new skills was a futile effort. Before you finished the first week of a course the jobs in that area would dry up and get sent over seas. I had to quickly reinvent myself. Because I was no prepared for anything like that I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what I can do vs what I wanted to do with what little there was out their for me to do.

    The point of my story is if it occurred to be that things could of been half as bad as they were I could of bounce back in less time and be prepared for when the economy turned around which took several year. The time scale for economic recoveries is not on a human scale. Many job skills become obsolete in a few months so who can wait 3 to 10 years for that job market to come back? The only way would be to go back to college for 4 years or more but then who pays your expenses during that time? It just isn't realistic. I tell people think but many just say, no no no now. I only want to do this. For some that may workout for them but for most it will fail. Work towards the best but plan for the worst and there is no better time to plan for the worst when the best is before you.

    Good fortune on what you do.

  11. Guys… Instead of boosting our own careers in pointless bullshit service/sales/marketing/HR/admin jobs why not work together to push society beyond this chronic stagnation into the future: less work – more creative free time – life outside the corporate box.

  12. Ive meet a lot of ppl with NO INTEGRITY whom stole my work, later claiming it their "new form" (my work they stole), is now their new found calling. If propositions are being sought as a fling or "series of hook ups", then I guess its clear there ISN'T INTEGRITY to be found within their work. Longevity, I believe, upholds any type of formal security net to do whats right when called to duty going forward into forever. Some jobs like upholding peace do last forever, and the next project I do to fight for justice won't be with groups looking for a "quicky" in eyes of humanity. Great insight!

  13. Or just avoid the soulless, awful, mind-numbing, soul crushing fiery hellscape that is being a corporate drone…

  14. This guy is so out of touch with reality it's not even funny. He isn't even correct about the military and its careerism.

  15. I work in Major/Capital Projects in the Oil&Gas Industry and occasionally hiring is an element to my scope of work – now and again I'll have an interview with someone who's worked a previous job long term, and it always makes me chuckle – (applicant) "I have twenty years of experience as a X Manager for X Company" (Project Hiring Manager) "no, you have one year experience (scope) that you continued twenty times over"

  16. One thing I would add:

    You get too good at your job it can attract the sharks who will hide in the depths waiting for the monent to tear you to shreds.

    Office politics is a reality, always be on guard for career assasins. Julius Caesar and many unkowns have experienced a sharp knife to the back.

  17. I deserve to make more money than all of you because I work harder than all of you, you see how that works, Neil?

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