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Early Career Conversations
5 takeaways from hundreds of conversations with students and recent graduates.
Over the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of students and recent graduates about their careers goals. It’s been both rewarding and eye-opening, and I’ve learned a lot from the student community.
I’m sharing some observations to key themes that have consistently come up in conversations in the hopes that it will be helpful to those who are just getting started.
Push vs pull forces
External forces such as societal norms, parental expectations, and peer pressure are 'pushing' you in a particular direction. 'Pull' connotes that something naturally draws your interest and pulls you in its direction.
We spend the majority of our childhood and young adulthood in an environment where we are told what to do. As a result, we're more susceptible to pushing forces.
Being guided by push forces can sometimes lead us down a productive path, but it can also leave us very confused.
Take a moment to identify what piques your interest and pulls you toward it. It could be a specific role, industry, or type of work. Lean into your natural curiosity.
Management consulting and product management
The topics of management consulting and product management have come up in 80% of my conversations with students. Outside of technical domains, they appear to be the most sought-after fields today.
Mind you, they are excellent fields. Consultants and PMs are among the brightest and most hardworking I’ve worked with, but I’d encourage students to think through what draws them to these domains rather than following what’s currently hot.
If you do pursue these domains, be aware why of why you’re doing so. It could be the breadth, optionality, and deep generalist skillset that consulting provides, or the ownership, user-centric, and analytics-driven thinking within the world of product management.
Slow is smooth
I often get the question: “How can I get to X level in a Y timeframe” - assuming we’re playing a game, racing against others. In reality, there is no race - there isn’t even a game. Enjoy the journey and don’t overlook the details along the way.
Tunnel vision can be an advantage, but it can also limit our ability to think long-term and see the big picture. Focus on building sustainable habits and systems that can span a decade. and do things slowly, intentionally, gracefully.
Good vs great questions
“Why did you go into tech?” or “What do you love about your job?” are common questions I get asked. These question are good, but not great. Other than providing a bit of perspective, they aren’t helpful or actionable in any way. And, more or less, you’ll realize everyone has a similar answer.
Instead, ask specific, actionable questions like:
“What is something you spent a lot of time doing that I should skip entirely?”
“What mindset shift or realization did you make too late?”
“What skills did you wish you developed earlier?”
(s/o to Dickie Bush for this one)
Over time, I’ve found myself reading books less and less. Newsletters are more informative and up-to-date. Short-form videos are more engaging and digestible. Podcasts are more practical.
But occasionally, when I do pick up a book, I’m reminded of why reading books is such a valuable activity. Reading a book requires immense focus. Books allow you to unplug from the world. And finally, the best books contain timeless knowledge.
Nobody talks about books anymore. I understand they’re less popular now, but they will never go out of style.
I look forward to many more conversations. My calendar is always open.