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Several readers have asked me how one gets a high-paying job or trades into a higher paying job. It’s a fantastic question and there are many ways to accomplish it. What follows are the techniques that worked for me on my personal journey. By following these tenets, I was consistently given what I was told were the highest raise and bonus grants of anyone in the company. And I think they will work for almost everyone, no matter how many years you have gotten into your career.
Invest In Strengths, Not Weaknesses
On my list of Professional Things I Wish I Were Better At, networking was probably #1. Every leadership, entrepreneurship, and sales book I have ever read includes an ode to networking. This especially mattered to me because for many years I thought I wanted to start an internet start-up.
Entrepreneurs would come to campus and talk about how important it was to hustle, to cold pitch investors and potential customers, to always be looking for an opportunity to convince someone of the mission of the business. A fellow wannabe entrepreneur recommended Never Eat Alone to me, and it was memorably one of the most anxiety-inducing books I’ve read to date. The central premise is that you use every meal as an opportunity to reach out and network. Fakjfdklafja
This sounded like some special kind of torture to me. I’m somewhere on the introvert scale, which means I like hanging out with people but find it draining. This obsession with networking gave me a serious case of self-doubt.
I have many things to say about networking now that I’m retired. First of all, it mattered a lot less than those made it out to be in my own career. As the world’s foremost Networker-Fail, I can attest that you can have a healthy, happy career even if you are terrible at networking. Secondly, I realize that I gave myself a lot of anguish focusing on this supposed weakness of mine because I thought I might have to use it for 30+ years, and it turns out I would only have had to use it for 7. That’s a lot of pain and unhappiness for such a relatively short window of potential gain.
What served me better in my brief career focusing on my strengths rather than on my weaknesses. The things I was good at (crafting an investment thesis, market research, etc.) turned out to be very important to my employer. With a 7 year career, focusing on things I was good at rather was much better at netting me raises and promotions than shoring up my weaknesses.
If I could give advice to someone starting their career or trying to pull out of a rut, it would be: Find some aspect you can be known for, and get extremely good at it.
Choose A Rocket Ship
Imagine you are a total badass at your job. You walk in and everything you touch turns to gold. But you work at a struggling small company that is burning money and whose product is not well received. Do you think you’ll be paid top dollar compared to the rest of the market?
By contrast, imagine you are only okay at your role. But you work at an insanely fast-growing start-up who has way more to accomplish than it has people to get the work done. You are mediocre, but you are a known quantity and are otherwise reliable.
Which position would you rather be in?
I have seen this difference cause 50-100% compensation differences between equally qualified people. As an investor in various companies, I would see an excellent salesperson making double what a counterpart made at another company simply because the sales velocity and ticket size of the first product was more better than the second. I have seen programmers with 40% salary differentials in companies in the same city.
I think job searching skills are a completely different set of skills than what your day to day job will require, and many people don’t expend enough effort and educate themselves enough about this all-important step.
This is related to the next step.
Look For A New Job Every Two to Three Years
I know several managers and directors, particularly in the engineering function. They have observed to me that employees who have stayed internal for many years are often underpaid to those who lateral in with similar experience.
This makes sense when you think about it. A lateral hire is someone who the company has had to go out and compete against other companies to win. Their demands are heard with more urgency given the competition, whether that be role title or pay.
While I ultimately stayed at the same firm for my entire career, I looked for a job every two to three years. I got close to taking one and shared that with my superiors. That year, I was given what I was told was the highest bonus of everyone in my year. And I went on to be rewarded among the most handsomely at the firm thereafter.
By going to the market every few years, in the best case you will walk away with tens of thousands of dollars more by switching companies or getting your company to match, and in the worst case you confirm that you are being paid handsomely compared to the rest of the market.
I have a friend who was working in a different, less well paid function at his firm. He wanted to swap over to the investing side but was told he was not qualified. He lateraled to another firm who would take a chance on him. Two years later, his original firm that turned him down has now offered him his desired position because he has the work experience, and he’s being paid almost twice what he was paid three years ago.
Yes, it does require work. Yes, it’s not the most fun thing you could think of to do with a Saturday afternoon. But what other opportunities are you looking at that could net you $15k-$80k+ more per year, every year for the rest of your career?
Pick A High Demand Area In Your Field
Say you’re a software engineer. You could work on web, back-end, all sorts of aspects. Retooling is a pain but doable in your field. It is completely worth your time to focus on the areas that are most in-demand. Mobile engineers at one firm I’m close to were on average $30k higher for new hires than web or back-end engineers.
For those who are just starting out, know that some roles are just frankly more valuable to a company than others. Revenue-generating roles such as sales tend to be some of the most well-compensated employees in the firm. I had a CEO of a multi-million dollar company tell me that in all of his companies, the top-performing salesperson earned more than he did each year in base and bonus, and that was as it should be. Roles where you can show huge impact on the company that can be directly attributed to you vs a team get paid the best. That’s why portfolio managers at hedge funds are also compensated so handsomely. They directly generate profits and the results can be tied specifically to that one person.
Think About Ramp Time and Opportunity Cost
For those who are just starting out or those who are going back to school to re-tool for a new career, consider not just average starting salary but also ramp and opportunity cost.
For example, being a doctor seems very appealing. The median salary in 2015 was $187k! But becoming a doctor requires 8 years of education and likely over $200k of debt. There are certainly many doctors who have retired early. But it is not a cake walk, and you won’t really see 28 year old retired doctors if you are gunning for an extremely short time frame.
By contrast, if I were counselling someone on the most economically promising careers , I would suggest sales (primarily software or other high margin products), software engineering, and finance. You start earning money right out of undergrad, often high five figures or even six figures to start. The compensation growth in these roles well outpaces others.
Career management is one of the most underrated skills in your financial arsenal. Several hours of work per year can net you $15k-$80k+ more every year for the rest of your career.
If you’re looking for more books on managing your career, a few of my favorites are below.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook talks through how she made several career decisions along the way to maximize her career and also talks about how to get recognized by your bosses as extraordinary. I really dragged my feet on reading this because the feminist angle had been played up hugely in the first responses to the book, but it’s probably one of the best career books for both men and women I’ve ever read. I highly recommend. If you want to know what successful career management looks like, Sheryl Sandberg is where the buck stops.
For those who are starting a position at a new firm, this book covers the major elements you need to get right to ensure a fantastic 3 month ramp into your new role. First impressions count, and I have seen three friends use this successfully to look like all-stars when they lateraled to other companies.
The title was honestly a bit of a turn-off to me, but don’t let it fool you – the content’s good. Covers how to prep for an interview (I have no idea why people go through hours of effort to secure a job interview and fail to do real prep work to ensure the interview’s success), when to bring up salary, and how to negotiate for better pay.