How to Navigate Your Career Like an Entrepreneur
If you want to navigate your career development, you can find a lot of advice online. There are job sites with career profiles for different jobs and websites like Glassdoor which show you reviews of companies from people who have actually worked there. You may have spoken to a careers adviser in university, who showed you a list of jobs matching your subjects. Or you may have career conversations with your manager, discussing your future trajectory at that company.
A lot of these resources will give you an insight into potential roles or companies available to you when you are thinking about how to navigate your career. What they don’t often tell you is how to think about your career development in the first place. When you are developing your career outside the lab, how should you be looking at your future path? Is it a linear trajectory with smooth promotions within the same company for the rest of your life? Is your PhD a long term option, or could you be moving in and out of academia? What makes you adaptable enough to move between academia and industry? How do you make career transitions into fields like science communication, writing or policy?
Career websites will give you job and company profiles. Alongside this are details such as expected salary, benefits, and pros and cons of those roles. They will tell you what you may be looking for. But in isolation, they don’t give you a bigger picture view of how to answer the questions posed above.
In his book The Start-Up of You, Reid Hoffman transforms the way you think about how to navigate your career. Here are a few key take-aways from the book:
Everyone is an entrepreneur
To navigate your career, it’s not just a matter of writing down a list of roles you want to do in the future and then applying for those roles. Hoffman talks about everyone viewing themselves and their career like running their own business. An entrepreneur needs to constantly think about who they serve and how they help. In a similar way, we should all be thinking about what we offer and how we solve problems. If you go into an interview with this mindset, it will transform the way you present yourself, because you are going in with a mindset of adding value for others.
When running a business, you also may need to change your focus as market conditions change, or your customers needs evolve. In a similar way, we need to be assessing the job market and being aware of what skills are in demand now and in the future. Nowadays, learning and upskilling ourselves is a constant process and not limited to studying or even workplace training.
Know who the strong and weak ties are within your network
How do you map out your network and understand who you can go to for specific types of help? An easy option may be to go to family and friends for advice on career plans. This can be a good way of getting some initial views, but they can often be too close to home. Hoffman describes close family and friends as ‘strong ties’, who can be a gateway to a wider network, but know us too well to always give practical advice. Their views often contain biases from their own decisions or can be overpowered by concern for stability in the lives of those they care about. Weak ties, however, are those who we have interacted with in the past or see only occasionally at work or other events. They are more likely to give advice or referrals without these biases. They are also more likely to provide new information which you may not get when interacting with the same circle repetitively.
You can start to recognise the strength of your ties in your network and actually categorise these on online platforms like LinkedIn. See our article on networking for introverts for more tips on networking online.
Develop your adaptability quotient
To plan a career in today’s world is almost null and void, since our environment is constantly changing so rapidly. Plans made today will be out of date in a few months or even weeks’ time. And it’s not just the environment that changes, but our desires, motivations and needs change. You may want to make a career transition from an academic role to the pharmaceutical industry. Or, you might want to use transferable skills gained from your Chemistry degree to work in finance. Previously, IQ (general intelligence) and EQ (emotional intelligence) have been seen as markers of high potential.
Now, just like an entrepreneur adapts their skills and business models to changing conditions or personal interests, so does the job-seeker. How adaptable you are is becoming increasingly important. Companies often require their employees to take on a broad range of duties or wear multiple hats. And it’s especially important to show your adaptability when making a career transition. Doing this at all stages of a job application process is crucial, including positioning yourself for future roles on your CV.
The Start-Up of You contains many more insightful ways to navigate your career. It presents a picture of how to look at ourselves as the CEO of our own careers. It’s a future-focused, alternative lens. Whether you are looking to transition out of a lab-based role, or have already started your career outside the lab, looking at your career in this way will enable you to take intelligent risks, leverage your network effectively and make smoother transitions over the course of your career.
If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, book a Beyond the Lab Breakthrough Session here.