I’ve spent some time here talking about just how lucky I am to be able to wake up every morning and go to work at a place where I’m continually inspired by the people I find myself working with and humbled by the mission we’re striving toward. Given the enviable position in which I find myself, in any given week I get a LOT of requests from people looking for career advice on how to break into to the tech ecosystem. And I’m generally happy to help, not least of which because I’ve been the beneficiary of advice, introductions and time from mentors in the past (that I’d note haven’t really had anything to gain by being helpful to me) that have really helped distill the processes I used myself when I was looking for the next step of my career.
Ultimately, this is a fairly simple exercise to help organize your thoughts, understand your own strengths and pursue the opportunities that are most meaningful and likely most lucrative to you. I’ve found that if you’re brutally honest in filling this out, it’ll open up a world of roles (and companies) that you’ve never thought of before, and also help lend some real focus to your efforts.
I’m pretty old school when it comes to process, so while you can whip up a google spreadsheet to do this, I’d really recommend you actually take a piece of paper and a pen and write this exercise out. (NB – this exercise probably isn’t as effective for recent grads as it is for someone that has a few years of work experience for the simple reason that without a few years under your belt, you likely won’t have the context to effectively complete this). (Charlie O’Donnell just put out a great exercise on formulating an idea which you can see here.)
Take your piece of paper and draw out four columns (A,B,C, and D)
A.) Column A’s title is going to be HARD SKILLS. A “hard skill” is something objective/quantifiable, a capability you have using a certain tool/skillset or specific set of experience you might have that adds to your profile as candidate. So, for example:
If you’re an engineer, these might include the languages in which you code and the level at which you can; If you’re a former banker/consultant/boring, this likely includes Excel, Powerpoint, etc.; If you’re a salesperson, it’s the processes you’ve developed, the relationships you bring to the table, and so on and so forth….
You should try to find at least 5 of these, and they should demonstrate a sense of self-awareness and excellence/achievement in each domain.
B.) Column B is comprised of your ESOTERIC SKILLS. Esoteric skills are the “soft skills” and things that make you, you. These include those descriptors you pepper your resume with, but that you can’t really measure, like: Leadership, Analytical, Self-Starter, Team Player, etc.
It’s always better to SHOW rather than TELL that these are actually true, so you also want to come up with at least ONE actual story to demonstrate how you’ve exhibited each of the characteristics you list here. That’ll be even more helpful when actually crafting your “story” in an email or interview.
C.) Column C is going to be the CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUR “PERFECT” ROLE. I broke the “core characteristics” of any job/company into a few categories below based on what mattered to me, but you can probably find a few more that make sense:
Minimum Salary you can live with:
Ideal team size:
Compensation structure: Equity/Salary/Bonus
How tied to your own performance do you want your compensation:
Do you want to be in a position to be mentored:
Do you want to be in a position to manage others:
What is the upward trajectory of the role (i.e. – what do you want to see in the next year, three years and five years from a comp, responsibility and growth perspective):
What is your downside threshold (i.e. – how much runway do you need to know the company has in months)?:
What kind of autonomy do you want in your role?
What kind of support/resources do you need in order to succeed in this role?
Do you want to have to meet new people in this role? Describe the “ideal culture” fit in five words:
Those are just a start, but I’ve found have a profound impact on the type of company at which you’ll fit (or need to fit) — including things like stage, type of role and type of company.
D.) Column D is going to be SECTORS of the economy that you find interesting. I break this into three sub categories: “Growth,” “Passion” and “Edge”.
Growth is a level of conviction you (or the market has) that this area of the world will grow at a pace that excites you and that is theoretically at multiples of the economy writ large.
Passion is the level of interest you have in the sector, and the missions therein. After all, this is an exercise in finding a career you love.
Edge is the unique viewpoint, set of skills and positioning you bring to the table. In areas of great technical complexity or regulatory hurdles, prior experience or advanced education can be a huge advantage that you work to yourself.
Whether you choose to do these as percentages or multiples — the triangulation of all three will give you an idea of where you have the biggest opportunity personally, and what you can begin attacking.
The first 3 columns should really serve to shed light on what type of job you want to be doing, and the kind of place at which you want to build a career. The third in particular will guide you toward a role and a stage of company that can meet your minimum requirements. The last is a tremendous way to galvanize your thinking and efforts around specific companies. And with more tools at your disposal than ever before (between Crunchbase, Mattermark, Angel.co and Crunchbase, you’ll have pretty close to a 360 degree view of any market at its early stages), you’ll be able to attack the opportunities you’re most intersted in and that are theoretically the best fit. If you’re really a hustler, you’ll go beyond just job postings listed, find the decisionmaker, and be able to reach out to them to communicate all the reasons why you WANT to be there and all the value you WILL deliver.