10 Things to Learn from The Start-up of You (LinkedIn, Career)

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The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career (by Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn) was highly recommended to me by Lily Phan, and after reading it, I can understand why – it’s a wake up call to what the world is like today, in terms of the professional career.

It’s a summary of what you need to do in order to thrive in today’s work environment – Hoffman makes the parallel of one’s career to a startup. How a startup survives (hustle in chaos, pivot, etc.) is similar to how you must manage your career. Yes, it’s tough, and unlike what your parents went through, but that is what is required today. Accept and embrace it or fail.

While many of the lessons (you must compete, differentiate yourself, etc.) had been taught to me by my dad (he told me 20 years ago, that for my generation, the bachelor’s degree would be so common as to be meaningless – he was right), and have been taught by me to others, the book reinforced those lessons.

This reminded me of an article in the San Jose Mercury News a few years ago. In it, a young woman, having recently graduated from San Jose State University, told the reporter that she felt she had fulfilled her responsibility by getting solid grades at the school. She did not understand why she did not have a job – she felt that going to college meant that she deserved a job when she finished.

Someone like that would not yet have understood the critical points of The Start-up of You. At times, the book feels like an advertisement for the LinkedIn service. While I disagree about the actual  effectiveness of some of Hoffman’s LinkedIn usage recommendations, they do make sense, at least conceptually, and you can tell that his team has put in a lot of thought and research into activating the social network to foster professional relationships.

Other than that, Hoffman has good advice for adjusting your LinkedIn profile (see mine here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaeldinhnguyen/).

I could not export my Kindle notes, so I’ll paraphrase ten notable lessons from the book:

1. The days of lifetime-guaranteed jobs and continual on-the-job training is over. You need to be ready to work when you go through the door. Companies don’t want to invest in training if people are just going to leave in a few years. Companies die too quickly to guarantee a lifetime contract – the average a company stays in the S&P 500 today is just 10 years.

2. Loyalty is no longer to the company, but among your social network.

3. Understand what differentiates you by completing the following thought: “A company hires me over other professionals because….” (What makes you so much better or more valuable than everyone else who wants the same job?) If you cannot answer this, you need to create your answer (not make it up, but work on differentiators).

4. Don’t assume you need a perfect 5 or 10 year career plan mapped out – things rarely work out this way. Successful companies often change directions drastically before reaching success. In the process, they experience near-death and lots of adaption. Your career will be the same.

5. To enter a new industry or new job direction that needs previous work experience that you do not have, not only make contacts with people in those areas, but do work for free on the side. Example, if you are interested in product management, ask if you can write up your ideas (following the proper work structure) and have actual product managers review (and be able to use them without having to pay you) and give you feedback. You would do this new work in addition to your existing work. This would also be applied to learning new skills.

6. The self-made man is a myth – it’s about you and your network that will ultimately define your value and success.

7. Physical proximity (if you live across the country from someone, your relationship strength will suffer) is a strong indicator of relationship strength, networks of strong relationships can be of maximum 150 people at one time.

8. Focus on helping people first. Provide value before seeking it – differentiate yourself this way.

9. If you are not truly pained by the risk in your strategic choices, this is a sign this is not the breakout opportunity you are looking for. No pain, no gain, meaning that amazing opportunities come with a lot of risk (the pay is too low, it’s in a different city than I want to be in, etc.) and disruption to what you want.

10. We are afraid of risk much more than we should be  – we overemphasize risk and underemphasize positives when evaluating situations. For example, dying in a plane crash is virtually impossible, yet people have an irrational fear of it. Learn to absorb risk over time, get used to it – step into the fear.

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