It’s been seven years since I graduated from LSE. Since the summer of 2009, I’ve worked at five different companies including Groupon, Amazon and HotelTonight in seven different roles, earned two promotions and won two company prizes. But the path has been far from smooth. Looking back on the journey my career has taken so far I realise just how little university prepared me for the realities of the working world, especially startups. In the summer of 2009 I simply did not possess the toolkit necessary to navigate a competitive job landscape. And I’m wondering why that might be. Is it the ever-illuminating power of hindsight or was I really ill-equipped for the challenges ahead?
It’s clear that the world has changed. And continues to do so at an even faster pace. 18 months after graduating into a recession-ravaged UK I was drawn into an anomaly. A sector growing at lightning speed, generating record-breaking amounts of revenue, innovating in new spaces and reaching out to new customers and new markets in new ways. I plunged head-first into the brave new world of tech and I haven’t looked back since. I learnt more in my first three months at a startup then I’d learnt in all the careers meetings and events I’d attended throughout university. I learnt that the recipe for success as I knew it and had been taught in the traditional academic setting was out-dated. “Get good grades and you’ll succeed” is what school tells you, but once you start applying for jobs and getting those rejections you learn that grades are just one piece of the puzzle.
When I joined a startup I soon realised some of the brightest and most talented people around me didn’t get the best grades at school or even university. Which was surprising and confusing. I began to wonder whether all my all-nighters in the LSE library had been in vain. The more I got to know these colleagues the more I understood why they held the coveted positions they did. From what I’ve observed over the last 7 years, it seems as though the formula for success lies at the point where intellect and emotional intelligence meet. Of course you need to have impressive achievements to get top jobs in a competitive market. But in a dynamic world where a few bright stars are accomplished entrepreneurs before they’ve even got a degree, those achievements don’t need to be straight A’s. You also need to develop an awareness of yourself, your risk appetite, your strengths, your weaknesses, and an ability to connect with people in a way that feels natural and not awkward to you. People – whether you like them or not – will be the gatekeepers to most things you want to achieve in your career, so it’s important you invest in people skills too.
The more involved I’ve been in recruitment at the tech companies I’ve worked for, the more I’ve realised that we need a new approach to careers in tech. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few weeks of running careers workshops, it’s that something’s broken. Somewhere, somehow, someone forgot to send a memo about how to build a sustainable career in tech. With a lack of retention continuing to threaten growing startups – tech companies have an average 3 year staff tenure – and more companies fighting over a small cohort of engineering grads every year, something’s got to give. We need a new approach informed by the changing world around us and the changing dynamics of the employer-employee relationship. One that works in the competitive but collaborative environment of tech and startups. In the madness of bubble talk and IPOs, you need to be able to effectively showcases your unique skills and experiences to potential employers. It’s not going to be fixed overnight, but the work we’re doing is helping us gather some really interesting data sets on what motivates people to join the tech industry, why they stay and their most common reasons for leaving. We’re pretty sure there’s a better way of doing this, and data might just get us there.
Photograph by StartupStockPhotos