How many jobs are you going to have?
Summary: You will have 3-5x more jobs than you might guess you’ll have. This note suggests a longer term view on career so that you view each job as a stepping stone for the next.
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about tenure and how to maximize career over the course of our lifetime. We are all living longer, healthier and more productive lives (current situation excluded), and especially in tech, people are taking on more roles at more companies than ever before.
How long do you think the average tech professional stays in their job? Most commonly, people say four or five years. After all, most equity grants are four years, and when you find a job, the last thing you want to think about is finding another. But turns out it’s far closer to 2-3 years, even for roles at big tech companies. When tech struggles, tenure in these jobs probably lengthens by a year or so. But for the sake of discussion let’s presume five years is the average tech tenure.
Now, how many years will you have in your career? Most people guess 30-40 years. But most of you won’t really “retire”, but will simply pivot work to be more meaningful downstream - not wholesale retirement. Maybe you’ll give back, work for a non-profit, or find a second career. So if you start work in your 20s and current improvements in health continue, you might work well into your 90s. Which is 75 years of employment!
That means you will have 15 jobs! Will it be 25? Or 10? Whatever it is, it’s unlikely to be just 5. Since it’s football season in the U.S., I’ll use an analogy: your career is far closer to the NFL regular season, not the playoffs. Yet most people I coach see each job as the Superbowl. It has to simultaneously teach new skills, expand brand, build confidence, nurture your soul and line your pocketbooks. Instead, it’s closer to the regular season. In football, the team’s goal is to build momentum each game, experiment with different lineups and formations, make the playoffs and rest before the postseason.
In career, it’s similar - each job should be a setup for the next. In fact, it’s those later years in which you’ll have the most impact. On its surface, you might assume your impact will be split evenly across each decade of work. If you have a 50 year career, you might assume you’d earn about half after 25 years and be about halfway through what you can influence. But that’s absolutely not true. After 10-20 years, you have far more experience than when you started your career. You’ll have lots more influence within a company and drive substantially more earnings. In fact, some estimates show that people have earned only 5% of their total net worth by age of 40. Meaning most of the impact in career happens between ages 40-50.
My point is, you’ll have 15 jobs and the ones in the middle will be the ones where you make the most impact. If you are in your 40s, these are your power years - you should be in a job where you are delivering as much impact as you can. But if you are in your first 15 years of career, my advice is to be hyper focused on maximizing your next job. Ensure you are building confidence, learning the key skills and domains, and building a network. Don’t get distracted by quick wins, short term optimizations, instant payouts, or minimizing risk. Focus on what you’re learning in your current job to get you your next job, and so on and so forth. Take a long term view. And I hope this newsletter will help you get there.
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