Why You Should Run Your Career Like a Startup


Times are good in today’s technology job market. The IT unemployment rate is hovering below 3 percent and employers are scrambling to find developers and engineers. But that doesn’t mean a successful career is a foregone conclusion. Even in heady times, corporate needs evolve, the skills in demand change and some industries lose favor among consumers while new ones gain prominence. Business moves fast, and employer loyalty has all but vanished.

“In today’s job market, nobody’s going to take care of you,” observed Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch, a career coach in Needham, Mass. “Companies are always changing and reorganizing, and you have to run your career as if you’re running your own business. If you’re always seeking advice, networking and seeing what’s in the market, you’re going to be a more marketable worker.”

Successful entrepreneurs have a plan for product development, marketing and finances. They build relationships across their industries and recruit a board of advisors to provide them with guidance and a sense of accountability. They track their progress closely, change approaches when they have to, and have an exit plan. It’s an approach that allows them to manage contingencies and leverage one success into another. You may not like thinking of yourself as a “product,” but taking an entrepreneur’s approach is a good model for effective career management.

To start, organize your efforts along these lines:

Define Your Product

Yes, that’s you. The first step is to take a look at what you can offer employers. “This is about really understanding where you fit in the market,” Bloch said.

Besides having a handle on your skills and how they stack up against your competition, you should have a sense of what you enjoy doing and where your long-term goals lie. There’s a difference between wanting to be an individual contributor and someone who seeks to move into management, for example. Both types of people offer real value, but they often solve different problems for the employer.

Research the Market

Don’t wait until you need a job to figure out who’s hiring or what’s happening in your industry, Bloch advised: “People work hard to get a job, but once they get it, they don’t keep their development going. It should be an ongoing process.”

Keeping yourself up to date means you’ll always be ready to take advantage of new opportunities or make a move if circumstances change at your current job. In addition to following industry news and trends, use social media to keep an eye on where people are going—or leaving—and pay particular attention to organizations for which you’d like to work.

Know Your Finances

It goes without saying that you should know what kind of salary you need to pay your bills. You’ll negotiate better compensation for yourself if you follow the trends relating to pay, bonuses and benefits for people who have your level of skills and experience. Not only should you have a clear idea of what you want to make, you should know how your numbers compare to others in your industry and region.

Create a Marketing Plan

This is a good place to define the type of company you’d like to work for, including its size, industry focus and the type of culture it maintains. Identify specific organizations that seem like a good fit, research their business and operations, and plan the most effective ways to approach hiring managers on the inside.

Undoubtedly, that will involve some networking. That’s a big part of job hunting, and it’s done more effectively when you have a plan. Think about which professional organizations you should join and your potential level of involvement in them. Look at your social media connections and create an approach to nurturing them so they’ll be more valuable. For some people, Bloch points out, this can be as simple as sharing an occasional article. For others, a date for coffee or lunch might make sense.

Have a Development Plan

Successful companies rarely survive long on a single product. They’re constantly updating and evolving to keep ahead of the market’s demands. The same is true of successful tech professionals.

Each year, determine the skills you’ll need to refresh or learn, and don’t limit yourself to technical subjects. Soft skills are important, and if you need coaching in areas like writing or speaking, identify ways to get it, whether it’s through a coach, online course or community college. Once a quarter, step back to measure your progress.

Form a Board of Advisors

This needn’t be a group that meets formally, but rather a collection of people you can call on for advice and feedback several times a year. They’ll offer you different perspectives on challenges that arise at work or in your job hunt, and can help you spot opportunities or threats you might otherwise miss.

Bloch recommends recruiting former bosses who have backgrounds similar to yours and are familiar with your work. In addition, consider asking a colleague who can help you read your company’s political tea leaves, or people from your network who hold positions like the ones you aspire to.

Though many people find it difficult to actively plan and monitor their career beyond what’s involved in their day-to-day work, Bloch believes the dynamics of today’s job market make it important to do so. “We grow up trained to be externally driven, by grades, praise from our parents, ratings at work,” she said. “This whole approach means you have to be internally motivated. You’re doing it so you can be in charge of yourself.”

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