The other day I met few of my dear friends from my past life at Microsoft. The lunch meeting over Pizza was primarily focused on whatever career advice I could provide based on the years I spent in the industry hiring the best and the brightest as well as years spent mentoring them to achieve excellence and realize their full potential. Of course such conversations are bound to go in every possible direction and this was no exception. We talked about a variety of topics, I was peppered by questions across the spectrum and before I realized the scheduled time was easily exceeded!! What struck me was the passion, energy and eagerness of each of them to have a rich and fulfilling career while growing both personally and professionally. The question was what was the best approach that some what guarantees this.
Here are a few topics/questions that I remember from the conversation I thought were very relevant and figured others might find them equally useful to ponder and act on.
- How often should I move jobs to guarantee a sense of freshness and growth? Either within the same group/division/company or across companies.
- I feel like I am working on this really small and insignificant feature or product that doesn’t seem to have a huge impact.
- I don’t feel like I am growing as rapidly as I would like – what can I do to change that?
- Management seems to reward very localized “fix it” approaches versus ground breaking and risk taking behaviors. What can I do to change that?
As you can gather, these are all great questions which don’t necessarily have obvious answer nor an answer that would satisfy everyone. In a lot of cases “depends” might be an appropriate answer. Well, my friends didn’t come to hear me say “depends”, but instead were looking for some specific advice so I attempted to satiate their thirst as much as I could.
While there is no set timeline that makes sense across a variety of jobs, a good rule of thumb might be to look to move jobs every three years. At the end of a year you are just about feeling comfortable with the job, in a couple years you gain enough mastery to be performing at your peak and by the time you have spent three years on the job, you have pretty much learned everything there is to learn and have contributed to the job and the organization as well. It is perhaps a good time to move on from this job and find your next job that will help propel your career to its next logical place. Also, this move will likely reenergize you while you learn something new and feel a sense of fulfillment.
The significance of your work will depend a lot on the size of your company and which team or group you are working in. Having said that, the significance of your role or job is what you make of it. My belief is all limitations are self imposed. My advice is for you to volunteer and keep taking on more responsibility until a point where you are not able to accommodate any more. At this point you will discover that not only are you doing more significant work (within the confines of your product), feeling good about it, but also your leadership is looking to you to do important work. You will also over time notice that less important work is getting delegated to others in the team. This change in attitude not only makes you feel better but also helps with your growth.
With the increased ownership, responsibility and growth you will be allowed to take bigger risks instead of just localized small fixes or changes. Again, this change makes it that much easier to enjoy what you do because you are more in control of your destiny and day to day life. Most job related frustration arises from a sense of lack of control. That doesn’t mean you can do away with the need to work within the limitations of a structure of an organization, but you just feel more in control. The happier you are as a person, the better the quality of your work.
A good part of this advice comes from my recently published Kindle book,
so feel free to read it for additional details. If you are an Amazon Prime customer and have a Kindle reader (either the device or the software) you can read the book for free. Let me know if you find this advice useful or if there are additional questions/issues to consider.