I’d like to share my career story and how I developed The Lean Career method and Foundations.
A FAILURE OF OLD ADVICE
When I graduated from school I was eager to start work. I wanted to move fast, I wanted to apply my knowledge, and most of all I wanted to learn more. But before I could do those things I needed a job.
When I began my job search I followed all of the typical advice. I prepared for interviews in the way my college told to prepare. I made small changes to my resume before submitting applications. And I attended networking events–so many networking events. But none of it moved me forward. It felt like something magical was supposed to happen, but wasn’t happening for me.
I submitted hundreds of applications, got a few interviews, but then often failed getting an offer at the very last step. I was riding a roller coaster of enthusiasm and despair. When I wasn’t offered a job I felt I was perfect for I was dumbfounded. “But I’m perfect for this!” Unfortunately, the person on the other side of the table disagreed.
After a string of bad luck, I began applying my research and design training to the problem. I began to experiment.
I wanted to figure out what was really going on; to figure out what mistakes I was making.
I began asking myself questions:
- Why are we told to go to networking events?
- Why is this the absolute best way to write cover letters and resumes?
- What makes this an effective interview strategy?
I consulted dozens of books, none of the which gave much help. Those books told readers that the secret was to focus on their passions or better understand their strengths. To me neither of these seemed related to winning interviews and job offers. By only looking inward I wasn’t focused on the audience (the organizations and hiring managers) and what they needed.
From then on, I viewed every interview and application as an opportunity to experiment. I made hypotheses, designed experiments, collected data, and analyzed it. Eventually I found my first role at a research institute. Later I cofounded a startup. The outcomes of these experiments became the foundation for The Lean Career method and led me to the University of Chicago.
THE PERFECT PLACE TO STUDY SUCCESS
At the very moment when I became confident that I had a good solution to a critical problem I got a call with the perfect opportunity. I was being asking to take a position at the University of Chicago to design, from the ground up, the career services for graduate students.
When most authors and so-called experts of career development talk about what we ought to do they universally point to people who are successful. They tell stories of famous people who succeeded and hope that we will understand how to emulate them. I have a whole shelf of these books and none of them proved especially useful. In fact, if you read between the lines, you could see that the writers left out important details about why those people became successful. Almost all of which are because of good fortune, not merely hard work.
But the most important mistake these experts make is studying only successful people. If you do that then you can’t make predictions. Why? Because you may conclude that something that is in reality, irrelevant, is essential. For example, many of these books cite shared habits of successful people. Everyone who is successful does BLANK, therefore you should too. But what if the people they study all have the habit of eating breakfast. “Ah-ha! That’s the secret to success. Eat breakfast!”
Good social scientists gather data from across a whole group and that’s what I’ve done at the University of Chicago. While most authors focus only on people who’ve succeeded easily, I’ve also studied and coached those who’ve struggled mightily. By collecting data across the whole spectrum, I’ve been able to identify the underlying factors that determine career success. Our parents or colleges misled us.
My method has worked so well with over 800 students that I want to share it with other professionals. I want to help them overcome the same barriers I faced and most of our generation has faced in finding meaningful and satisfying work. Our work is too personal to be unsatisfying.
WHAT’S PERSONAL IS PROFESSIONAL
Prior to getting a research degree at UChicago I trained as a therapist. I provided therapy in groups and to individuals and with people of many different economic and cultural backgrounds. During my therapy training, I observed that many of the things that hold people back personally affect their professional goals as well. In fact, I believe all professional challenges have their origin in personal ones. From what we believe we’re good at and how we identify opportunity, to how we engage challenges, interact with colleagues and what we’re afraid of. It runs deep.
The Lean Career community is about supporting people in every stage of life. It’s about building a professional network of people who are committed to excellence, who want to learn, and who serve the world through their work. I want more people to understand themselves, grow, and achieve deeper levels of satisfaction at work. Ultimately, I believe that the best way to discover who you are is by learning what the world needs.
I hope you’ll join us for Foundations and join our community of professionals.
Founder, Facilitator & Author
The Lean Career