taking your next step

hi there!
early career jobs are all about setting your base for exponential success later in life, but most people make mistakes they regret.
now, you can either stop regretting, or make sure you have a well-rounded specialist profile from the start.
you’re probably enterprising and working while in college, finishing up your college degree and hunting for your first job, or are now trying to switch out your current job profile.
i feel your pain.
felt it so much, that i wrote this guide for you (current version: beta).
so if you’re in this bucket, this framework is for you.
let’s dive in:

picking the right job

if you’re someone who thinks they are
a) extremely talented, and
b) has a network to boast about;
chances are that you are inundated with job offers. but you’re young (late teens, early twenties). picking a job right now would mean dedicating at least 20% (1-2 years) of your known life to it (assuming achieving conscious identity at 10 years of age).
a big choice to make. hence, the next job you pick should have an ideal mix of:
  • great pay
  • great learning
  • great signaling
But how to choose?
I use something call the gap-fill method.
don’t bother google-ing, mera khud ka hai.
The gap-fill method aims to fix certain gaps in your career journey as a function of time and security.
To elaborate: Assume you are a tier-1 college graduate who comes from a well-off family.
Given a choice between a stable FAANG offer with a decent pay, or a new start-up with lower compensation but life-changing equity, the gap-fill framework advises you to pick the latter.
Because you come from a rich family and have a tier-1 pedigree. You have financial security along with strong signaling. A FAANG offer is not adding any value to your career, either short-term or long-term.
But if you’re a tier-3 college grad with economic issues, a stable FAANG job is a great way to start off building your security wealth and credibility.
The FAANG job will beget you decent money and will help you make up for your lack of college pedigree.
[Note: The examples I am using are not taking into account your personal appetite for taking risks. The gap-fill method only helps you choose the strongest and safest path to career success]
The gap-fill method can be used for finer decision-making too.

Switching careers

Consider me. 18 years old, been working as a copywriter at an agency handling copies for their biggest account ($100k/month).
I had been working there for 6+ months, on the cusp of being promoted to senior copywriter, and now had 2 people who’d done their Masters working under me. The work was time-consuming, but was cognitively easy. The pay was low-ish, but mind-boggling for a first year student’s bank account. I had copywriting offers from other famous agencies offering 20%-30% hikes on my then-current pay.
But I resigned.
Why? I was bored.
Now why did I switch? Here’s a few reasons:
  • I was becoming good at what I do. And I was turning complacent and stagnant. Good thing if you’re a 40yo executive, bad if you’re an 18yo starting out. You’re losing out on valuable growth if you aren’t struggling and learning at the first years of working. [note: the struggle doesn’t have to be job-related - you could choose to struggle with learning a complex hard skill, or setting up a side-gig.]
  • I was naturally curious. How could I marry myself to a single career path without having tried others? (the career fuckboi dilemma?)
So I switched to something called product management. Took a small pay cut, joined as a PM intern, and figured out what goes into making a good product.
my thoughts?
I had weighed my options and realised that continuing as a copywriter would put me on the path for a Head of content or a Chief Creative Officer by the next decade, but I wouldn’t be able to get rid of the FOMO of not having tried other stuff.
Also, PMs command a much much better status + pay relative to copywriters, plus, product management skills are much more transferrable than content writing.
a 10k pay-cut for a few months seems insignificant in the long run if you’re making 10X in a year or two.
I was from a tier-3 college with experience working with a tier-2 agency on a tier-1 campaign.
The money was okay, but the signalling was below what I wanted for myself.
By switching to product in a famous-ish org, I was setting myself up for a better pay + better signalling. The work-life balance would also be better as even though I was working slightly longer hours, the better pay made sure that I wouldn’t have to freelance to increase my income.
My per-hour income valuation soared.
Plus, I come from a decently well-to-do family, and I was still in college, unburdened by the financial responsibilities that would usually fall upon a working eldest son. I could take a lot of risk.

Choosing between multiple careers

Now you know when to switch jobs, but what should you do if you’re stuck at the cross-road (or a T-junction or a 5-way cluster)?
Once again, we rely on the gap-filling framework to help us.
Using my specific example:
I was stuck between moving to product or learning how to code and take up engineering.
I chose product, even though I was a CSE student. why?
  • externalities: This was late 2020. The Product Folks is not famous yet. Product management is the upcoming buzzword, fast-replacing ML and data science. I see potential and am sold on early dreams.
  • Coding has a higher learning curve + takes time to go through. Product relies more on your innate intelligence and product sense.
  • Marginally better pay and status: PMs were called the CEOs of product. PMs were paid on par (if not more) than engineers at their levels. PMs had “manager” in their titles.
Was I passionate about product management? Yes.
Why was I passionate? Because it was an opportunity that promised a higher pay, lower barrier to entry, and the coolness that accompanied a fancy job title. I was passionate for the perks and experiences that PM-ing promised.
hypothesis: assuming I knew how to code then (was bad in 2020, and as of 2022, i’m a passingly decent frontend dev), and given the choice between engineering at FAANG or similar, and PM at a random startup, I would have gravitated towards engineering.
I didn’t have college pedigree, nor any experience working in collaborative teams. A FAANG engineering job would fulfil these gaps while also giving me decent monies. I could then switch to PM from engineering (easiest transition) if I ever feel like it - either internally, or by jumping companies.

final thots

concluding, i will reiterate that these are mere frameworks - steps you should follow if you’re at the top-middle of the bell curve average for an ideal successful career.
this is a framework, not a set of rules.
do not make this framework your bible. rather, think of it, and foster it as that small annoying intrusive voice in your head that you converse with while making decisions.
also, the examples here do not explore other options apart from career changes (like starting up, freelancing, pursuing higher education) - because frankly, gaps there are for you to decide.
hope my word vomit helps you.