This is something I often think about. It’s about why sometimes looking at other people as role models for your career doesn’t work and can even bring you on the wrong path. What am I talking about? This is about what all of us do look on LinkedIn or social media at other people and think “I should really do like David, he has a great career in marketing, he’s been promoted every 2 years, has a great salary and everything seems perfect for him“. And then you ask yourself “how can I be more like David?” – you start doing things he does, learn skills he has (or you think he has), etc.
It’s the trap of looking at someone else to build your career. It’s a trap because you don’t really know David, he might have the skills and the personality that helped him get there or he simply had enough luck to end up having a career that looks perfect on the outside. Most importantly: what works well for David doesn’t necessarily work with you, even inside the same industry (marketing in this case), because your personality is different, your soft skills are and in general, you are good at different things.
In this article, I will try to list people’s common thoughts and mistakes about their careers – in my experience, most of these derive from looking at colleagues and friends that are simply moving faster.
Why do we look at other people to build our careers?
We are all victims of this tendency. As an entrepreneur, I used to spend a lot of time contemplating other individuals in similar roles, wondering why I wasn’t as successful or skilled as them. Eventually, I realized that every company is different, and it’s impossible to understand why something works for someone else and not for you. In my early days, I attempted to mimic their actions—thoughts like ‘Maybe I should attend more conferences, be more active on social media, and network more’ crossed my mind. However, every entrepreneur is unique and possesses specific skills that excel in certain areas. I can draw inspiration from others, learn from their strengths, but when it comes to my own growth, I need to find my own path.
LinkedIn is where most people showcase their successes: starting new companies, earning promotions, closing impressive deals, and acquiring new skills. Everyone appears highly successful on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, that’s just the nature of social media. Therefore, relying on LinkedIn as a source of role models is not ideal and can lead to pitfalls.
Let me now move to some of the common mistakes people do because they are influenced by others.
Switching jobs every 1 or 2 years because everyone does it
This is something I see pretty often and that is usually seen as a way to increase your salary and negotiate better conditions. It works, but people forget that in 1 or 2 years you usually learn just a little, not enough to have an impact on the company and not enough to really gain skills you can use in your career. It’s like playing a new sport for 1-2 years and thinking about the Olympics right after.
Switching jobs every 12-24 months is a bad strategy for almost every role I know. In year 3 or 4 you really start to have an impact, you learn new things and get to the type of experience in your role that really gives you the ability to go and pitch that to other companies if you want to. Jason Lemkin is constantly repeating this and I have seen this myself.
Most companies that are serious about what they will be suspicious of candidates that moved too often (we used to call them “jumpers” because looking at their profile you can see they have been “jumping” a lot from one place to another). Keep that in mind and if that’s your case, explain in advance why that happened.
Getting into management at all costs
“All my friends are managers” – something I’ve heard many times. Management is tough and if you do it well, it might be 100% different compared to what you like and what you have done so far in your role. Several people feel like they need to step into a manager role as soon as possible, often just after a few years of working experience. That’s completely wrong and it leads to disasters in 90% of the cases. Why? Because you are usually not ready to lead, you haven’t spent enough time hiring and firing people and most importantly, you did not have time to learn from other managers.
But it’s not only about time, management is not the only way up (I know it is in some organizations) and I’ve seen several people being extremely successful as individual contributors and feeling miserable as managers.
Management can take time and most importantly you should shadow some great managers to understand if you like it, what it takes and what’s the best path for you to get there. But if you started working less than 3-4 years, there is time and you should absolutely not rushing it.
Chasing roles and not planning what you really want to work on
There is always something shiny out there: a better title, a company that is growing faster, a better salary and so on. I know, your friend is killing it at the newest startup in the Bay Area. Still, most people that build great careers do plan for it and they are not simply chasing shiny new employments all the times. Planning your next steps can start with the skills and experience you want to gain. A few examples:
- As a software engineer: I want to see a few large enterprise projects where I get to work with very senior engineers and product managers and I understand the dynamics of the team and how you build successful products for enterprise companies
- As a marketing person: I want to understand demand generation and digital marketing, hopefully learning from someone who is great at them and that can slowly give me more responsibilities. My dream would be to then be able to take over one of these areas myself and be responsible for it.
- As a sales person: I want to learn how to do prospecting and being able to close deals that have an ACV (average contract value) of $50k and more. Ideally I will get to work with someone that teaches me how to sell strategically into the enterprise and how to get better at managing my pipeline.
I could continue for several more. The reality is that having in mind a goal like these ones will allow you to focus and plan your next steps with clarity. You are not just chasing a raise or a title, you are planning for skills and experience that you are passionate about and that you think will make you evolve in your career. When you really become good at what you do, that’s when you get a bigger and better salary. It’s a consequence of what you do for a long period of time, like many things.
There are colleagues that will move faster than you, get promoted, move to jobs with a better title. It’s difficult, I know, but you should ignore them and ask yourself what you want to achieve next in this role and in the next one you will have.
Seeking status and titles
I understand how attractive this is, but I yet have to seen a case where it ends well. People that are constantly moving to chase titles and status are usually damaging themselves more than they realise: in my experience this is something that can go well for a few years, until you end up in a company where everyone understands your play. This never works in small companies (50-100 people), it might work in large organizations but 9 times out of 10 it bites back at some point.
The reason why it happens is a mix of things:
- You have been promoted too quickly and don’t have the experience that your title suggests
- To be promoted so quickly you jumped from one job to another, building a long list of positions in your resume and increasing your salary close to top of the market
- Sooner or later you land a job that is simply out of your current experience, you start struggling with it and your company realizes the mistake they have done.
From there it gets more difficult because you are perceived as someone with strong experience but you lack the skills and the amount of time spent in multiple positions to really master your role. I’ve seen people that are then forced to go back to a smaller title and salary and learn the lesson the hard way.
Conclusions and what to do today if you are wondering what’s next for yourself
I understand all of what I said until now doesn’t help you answering a simple question “what’s the best way for me to advance in my career? What I feel like I have no direction and doubts about what I am doing?” – I hear you and that’s exactly what we talk about every week in this blog.
Here is where to start:
- Try to understand what’s not working in your current role – it might be the lack of direction and focus or something related to your company’s values and culture.
- Define what you want to learn and get experience with in the next 2-3 years.
- Talk to people in your network with more experience and tell them to give you an honest assessment: you might discover that what you are going through is kind of normal and you simply need to spend more time focusing on a few objectives.
Keep in mind that talking about your career path is a great option here and it doesn’t take too much. After you have done all of the above, I would definitely ask for it in your current role.