The CEO of LatentView Analytics makes the case that spending years evaluating the same challenges allows you to look at them from a variety of different perspectives.
The Great Resignation has changed the balance of power for employers and employees in every industry. Of course it’s completely understandable that younger employees would take this opportunity to find jobs with the best financial returns. However, these same professionals should put their job searches in the context of their larger career road map. Once they’ve landed at a new company, how will they move forward to build a career they can be proud of? In the short term, jumping from company to company may prove to be the most lucrative. However, this approach may limit your potential over the long term.
Over the course of my career, I’ve identified three key steps that are essential to building a successful career road map both in the context of my own experiences and in the careers of those I’ve interviewed and hired. While my professional career has focused on the people, processes, and technologies within the field of consultative problem-solving, data engineering, and analytics, following these steps can work just as well for someone pursuing a career as a lawyer or even a concert pianist.
1. UNDERSTAND THE MAIN COMPONENTS OF YOUR FIELD
Every industry has a common language that comprises several fundamental components. In data analytics, those include technology, math, and business/domain expertise. More granularly, it involves a specific set of tools and strategies, including programming languages such as SQL and open-source platforms such as TensorFlow.
For a lawyer, the common language includes volumes of case law and established precedents—the shared knowledge and experience that underpins our legal systems. For a concert pianist, the components include music theory, performance, and mastery of a body of repertoire: the major works of composers like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Chopin.
Achieving a comprehensive understanding of the language of your profession is a prerequisite for long-term success. Experts and hiring managers in your industry will be able to quickly assess you based on how fluently you speak the specialized language of your industry. Domain knowledge and understanding doesn’t require a young employee to spend their entire career at one place, but it is important to ensure that constant change doesn’t slow down or limit your growing knowledge base.
2. APPLYING A T-MODEL APPROACH
While having a well-balanced understanding of the core components of your profession is important, you set yourself up for greater success when you become a specialist in one area and become known for your specific expertise. In data analysis, certain employees can become well known for their ability to use a specific tool to solve a class of problems. That tool will not work for every challenge, but effective use of it can address many of the most common issues we run into.
This kind of expertise is what separates a highly skilled employee from a new entrant to the market, and it’s something that is referred to as a T-shaped skill set. This is based upon the premise that you can’t be a master of everything—you can be a master of one thing and a jack of many. An employee will be expected to have a base-level understanding of a broad range of topics (the “language” I mentioned above). However, their ability to add value will depend on the depth of their knowledge in a single focus area.
Over the course of your career, you can become indispensable to your employer by being able to solve a problem that no one else can solve. A lawyer who is an expert in the commercial real estate law of South Dakota will always be called upon for a specific subset of cases. Likewise, a pianist who has truly mastered the concertos of a popular composer will find themselves in constant demand to play with major orchestras. Developing T-shaped skills requires dedicated work, and this expertise may be difficult to come by without staying in one place and gaining a full understanding of the challenge.
3. Investing in longevity
There are many engineers who have impressive expertise in a highly specific area. However, only a small fraction of those engineers will go on to reach the top of their field or become leaders in a larger business. Why? The answer lies in longevity, and in how those engineers made use of their time.
Spending years at the same company, evaluating the same challenges, allows you to look at them from a variety of different perspectives. Drilling deep on the problem from one angle will provide you with a great degree of technical expertise, but it will render you unable to talk about it with other people—the dry technical knowledge will prevent you from finding a common language.
On the other hand, leaders who repeatedly look at the challenge from a fresh angle will find themselves better able to connect their knowledge to broader trends and business objectives. Having the ability to view your expertise in context and explain its importance to outsiders is essential for a successful, long-lasting career.
Whether you’re a lawyer, a pianist, a chef, an accountant, or a data analyst, there is an incredible opportunity now to establish the road map for a successful career. Keeping these three facets in mind will allow any young employee to advance in their chosen industry and find a position of leadership. Resist the urge to continue jumping—instead, do the hard work needed to become indispensable.