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How to Research Your Career Options

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Nov 16, 2022

How to Research Your Career Options

Dave Fano

Identify your ideal fit within an organization, function, and industry so it can give you that fulfilling and exciting work.

In this class, we're going to talk about how to research career options and think about how you fit in organizations, which are the context in which our careers can flourish. We will discuss Teal’s approach and how we think about researching career options, as well as key terms and frameworks. 

The intention here is to identify your ideal fit within an organization, function, and industry so it can really give you that fulfilling and exciting work.  We will do that using the following agenda:

Approach

Let's kick things off with Teal’s approach to thinking about career exploration.

Before we dive into our broader approach, let's think about where this class sits in the career exploration process, which is in those career options and fit. Once we're clear on our values and our interests, then we want to think about how those match with the context, the employer that we want to be at to keep driving our career. Then once we get past this, we'll look at how we analyze those and then build the plan and go get them. 

A key term in this class is organization. We're intentionally not calling it a company or business because it's about this idea of a collective of individuals working towards a common goal.

That goal might be to make money. It might be for a nonprofit or a cause. It's important that we frame it that way so you can think about the context and the collective that you want to be a part of. That's why we use the word organization, and that's how we define it. What we're really after in this class is thinking about you, the organization, and the ideal fit. We're calling that ideal fit the intersection of that venn diagram. 

The way we start to do that is we look at our skills, our abilities, our energizers, our potentials. The organization, they have functions in an industry and where those intersect is at that function industry.

We have things we want to be doing, skills, crafts, disciplines, abilities, that tend to align to a function. I want to do data analysis. There's probably a function called data analysis. Or that might be within the function of marketing, doing marketing operations. And then the industry might align with my values.

If there are things that I care a lot about with the environment and impact, there may be industries that make that a little tricky. What we wanna do is find that ideal fit of the things that matter to us, the things that matter to the organization, function in industry is really going to be where they come together. Getting aligned with that work that really brings us that fulfilling work. 

What we want to do is really focus on learning about organizations and functions to help us explore our career options. Again, companies are the kind of soil for our career. If the company is not rich with opportunity, and we don't understand how it operates in the context in which it exists, it's going to hinder our ability to grow and to pursue the things that we want to do.

Activities of an Organization

In this section, we're going to focus on the activities within an organization. We're going to talk about it in this abstract way because that will help us think about the kinds of things we want to do and what fills our day with tasks and work.

We have this framework that we call the four Gs, and it's a way to bucket the activities within an organization. We would argue that we generally have a bias towards one of these clusters of activities that excites us and that we want to be a part of, so we wanted to put a language around that and talk about how companies think about these clusters of activities.

First we'll look at goods. Goods are the products or services that the company sells. The goods part of the business is what's focusing on making the things that people buy.

Then the next is growth. There is usually a part of the organization that is focused on taking those goods to market. Again, every company's a little bit different. What we're trying to do is generalize these activities so you can think about what part of the organization you want to work on. Growth is going to be functions like sales and marketing. It's those activities within an organization that help get the goods in the hands of customers and get them to transact.

The third is gears. Without the gears, the business won't run, but oftentimes companies are going to invest in that in a different way. When we think about gears, think about that kind of plumbing and infrastructure for a company that it absolutely requires to operate. It's a focus on the business itself. 

Then there's a fourth one that spans all of them, and it's general. This is an important one to look at because if you're a person who really wants to touch all parts of the business, you have aspirations to be a CEO or general manager, that’s where general falls. 

You're going to need to understand all three of them. Typically people will come up through one of the three main pillars and then get to that place of general. You might very early on in your career say, look, I want to be a generalist. I like being thin and broad rather than deep and narrow. 

That's why we added this fourth one when we were first coming up with the framework of general because there are people that fall into that category that want to touch all three. Between those four, now you have an understanding of the kinds of activities that happen in an organization, broadly, but I would say it covers the majority of the activities within an organization.

Another thing to think about as you pursue companies and opportunities is the size of a company, because the bigger the company, the more these categories of activities become discretized. The smaller the company, the more they blend and the more that people have to wear multiple hats.

What it's important to recognize is that you are wearing those two hats. The more that you can have clarity on those, the better you can understand those occupations and those functions and the expectations of them. As companies mature and scale, that specialization becomes more and more important and more granular.

That's the last part of the way that we think about these four Gs and the way that organizations operate. As you think about the kind of work that you want to do, you can process if you want to be doing many things and touching a lot. 

That either puts me in the general or working at smaller companies where I can touch a lot of things or do I want deep knowledge and deep expertise in one of these categories of making the products, taking them to market, selling them or helping the business or even the department operate in a better way. That will help you think about the goods, gears, growth, and general. 

Types of Organizations

In this section, we're going to talk about types of organizations. In the previous section, we talked about the activities that happen in an organization. Now, here, we're going to talk about a broad clustering of types of organizations to help us think about how those activities then get invested in. 

One of the key drivers here is how a company makes its money. Money, at the end of the day, is the lifeblood for a company. Without money, it can't really operate in the commercial world that we exist in. Looking at how a company derives its revenue and where its expenses go will help us think about how they invest in talent and how they value it, which will ultimately affect you.

We put companies into these three meta buckets of products, services, or causes. 

When you're looking at companies, you want to see what part of the organization you fall into and then, do they really value it? Is it where they make their primary revenue? Especially when a company has multiple.

Be mindful of what the primary source of revenue is because that's going to shape how they invest in it, how they think about it. When the economy makes big changes, you'll see how they invest in those. It's really important that you be mindful of these things to help you think about how organizations run and invest in talent.

Functions & Industries

In this section, we're going to focus on functions and industries. Let's go ahead and define those terms because they may be a little bit abstract. 

A function is a grouping of skills and expertise within an organization. Some companies might be functionally organized or regionally organized or product organized, but they will have an understanding of how abilities and skills cluster.

That ultimately affects where the job sits with an organization. Knowing these functions and how companies think about them is really important. 

When we look at an org chart for a company, there's the top level executives, and then you're going to have your CMO, CDO, COO CFO, COO. That is really emblematic of a function. A CMO is a chief marketing officer. What that is showing is the company drawing boundaries around all activities having to do with marketing, because they want an expert leading those activities.

Now, some companies may distribute that regionally and make a regional CMO, or they may have all the marketing people report into a region. That's getting into the dotted line and solid line relationships, which we're not really going to cover here, but when a company has functions, what they are saying is we are clustering activities. The bigger the company, probably the more granular they get with a function. 

Let's talk through an example of that using marketing. Marketing might break up into acquisition marketing, content marketing, digital marketing, and brand marketing. Different companies are going to organize this in different ways. It might be earned. It might be organic. It might be  paid. They’re going to have different ways of clustering it, but it’s all really going up to marketing. 

When you think about this, it starts to present what career ascension and growth could look like for you. If you're able to map out the organization and how they think of the nesting of functions, there is no standard for functions, which makes it annoying.

But if you look at job descriptions that are posted on a company, you might be able to start to discern how they think about their functions and how they organize the nesting of those functions. What that translates to is the level within that function.

One tip here is to look at C titles that tend to be the lowest resolution of a function. If a company has created a C title, being a chief marketing or chief technology, at the corporate leadership level, that's telling you that's like the apex of the org chart. That is the way that they're thinking about it.

Some companies, if it's an important category to them, they may peel it off. So as an example, chief brand officer chief communications, officer chief marketing officer one could argue that those are all various forms of marketing. So I would look to see reporting structures and how the company does that.

Understanding those things are really valuable because then they help you understand how you would grow within that company. 

Then you could look to see how they ladder down. So within marketing, as content marketing, what are the symbolic titles that are tied to that? Are they directors? Are they VPs? How does the company think about it? Then what is one level down from that, which we would say high resolution, and what you see there is that those probably start to map directly to job descriptions. That's what we think and why these functions are really important.

Even though the company may not be explicitly thinking about it as functions, it is more often than not implicitly. The more that you have that understanding of the organization and the way they think about it, the better you'll be able to plan out your career growth and which functions map to your skills. That's again what we said at the beginning is that functions are clusterings of skills and abilities.

If you have these skills that you're excited about, by identifying the function, that's going to show you where you can exercise those skills and build. So here, you're starting to see those two worlds come together because certain functions are going to have more or less requirements of a particular skill.

A skill doesn't always map one to one to an occupation. Many skills are actually extensible and can exist in different contexts. Then what you want to do is think about which of those functions allow you to pursue those skills and grow those skills. The cool thing is that there's always expanding functions.

This is not a fixed thing. That's part of the reason that there's no standard for it. We'll tell you which functions are up and coming. Sometimes functions start to converge.

There's a chief growth officer that's coming about and people are converging, or companies I should say, are converging product and marketing or sales and marketing under one organization. Those might be some clues to show you how functions are evolving and what's a little more current. 

Here are some up and coming functions:

  • Digital
  • Experience
  • Innovation
  • Data
  • Culture
  • Strategy
  • Engagement
  • Design
  • Content
  • Diversity & Inclusion

Industry is oftentimes a really tricky word because industries can change.

There are standardized industries. The EU has one and there's different organizations within the US that have the Bureau of Labor Statistics because they want to categorize industry, but now that's becoming more and more complicated. We think about it as a way for you to group organizations based on the markets that they serve.

Really, it's a taxonomy that you can use for yourself to align to your interests and the domains that you want to be a part of. It's really important because companies value domain or industry knowledge, sometimes independent of occupation or functional knowledge. So let's talk about that a bit more.

When we talk about an industry, we're talking about collective efforts to solve a similar market. That is an ability to have domain knowledge on what that market is required to do, and hopefully that domain is one that's of interest to you. It aligns with your values and the kind of work that you want to be doing, somewhat independent of the occupation, craft, and function.

Examples of industries:

  • Transportation
  • Technology
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Finance
  • Entertainment
  • Real Estate
  • Retail
  • Education
  • Non-Profit

The tricky thing is that they are not so obvious. Let's take a company like Uber. Is it transportation or is it technology? A company like Amazon; Is it retail or is it technology? Really what we would say is they're more like tags than exact categories, and use them as a way to organize organizations for yourself to target these domains that you're excited about.

When companies get big enough, industry is really not that helpful because they could be operating in many industries. Be mindful of industries that you have experience in. 

You also want to be mindful of how industries are affected by current events, like COVID-19.  

What I would say with industries is that they have a really important part to play in the economic viability at the moment. That is the kind of thing that's changing all the time because some industries may come and go given new technological advances or changes in market dynamics.

That's where industry is also really important to help you think about your career growth and where those opportunities are going to be presented. 

As you think about your career growth, it is good to approach this kind of like an investor and think about what industries are going to thrive, because those are going to be the companies that are opening up roles.

They're going to be hiring more aggressively. They're going to need to fill a lot of seeds, and they'll probably have a higher appetite for bringing on people with excitement and energy about their industry. 

Bringing it all together is skill, function, and industry. These are the things you want to think about as you explore these new career opportunities because the skill might be building relationships. That's a pretty good match for the sales function, but then the industry that you do that in would be very different. You might be a person who's done sales and good at building relationships, but you're coming from the media industry and selling advertisements. Now you want to go into pharmaceuticals because you may have moved to a geography where that's a flourishing market.

All these things come together, and they really affect your ability to get hired and do that work. Companies want to hire you for what you did, not what you want to do. The more you can frame your value to the market in this way and be mindful of the value you bring, the easier it's going to be to get hired and pursue these things that excite you and fulfill you.

Let's take the function of social media. Here's three very different ways that it could come to be. If you are in the transportation industry, working at a company like Lyft, you might call that technology, but you're going to need to be able to engage in topics of transportation and understand that's the market.

You sit within, maybe it's hospitality, right? Understanding hotels and what's going on with that market. Or it could be a nonprofit. Here, what you're seeing is a product business, maybe more of a service business, and a cause business. 

Here you see a couple other functions and a couple other ways that they could come to be.

That's why we think the intersection of function, industry, and organization is how you really think about that context in which you can deploy your skills, abilities, and values and get that work that really excites you.

Find Your Fit

In this section, we want to bring the class together and think about how you fit with the organization. 

The first thing we want to look at is if you are a generalist or a specialist. Do you want to be a generalist, or do you want to be a specialist? Both have value. 

Specialists might have a bit of an easier time communicating their value because a lot of times companies want a very specific thing, but that's not to discount or devalue generalists.

There's a lot of opportunities for generalists, and there's a lot of research that shows being a generalist can add a ton of value for the organization and can be a very enriching and fulfilling career. Having an opinion on that is really important for you, as you think about the kind of work that you want to do.

Then you want to think about the level of seniority you want. A lot of people think that they need to manage and they need to lead to make more money, and that's not always true. What's really important is that the work that you do is fulfilling and exciting, and you can be really good at it. Then you can prioritize the values like income or balance or the things that matter. 

Think about if you're an individual contributor, which means, you're really rolling up your sleeves, you're doing the work. It's going to be quite granular and technical. You are doing the sales, you are doing the marketing, you are doing the coding. 

Then we go to the manager, which means you're starting to manage people. You're starting to spend the bulk of your time on helping people be productive and helping the company get the most value from those people, which means their growth and them having fulfilling work so that everybody benefits.

Then last is the strategic leader, which I would say is like a manager of managers. Now you are managing people that are managing people, helping set the objectives, the vision for the company, probably starting to have more of a broad remit around profit and loss and budget and things like that.

And sure, there is usually a sort of mapping to career growth within a company with the more you move up, but we want to make sure that we emphasize that's not always the case.

If you pursue management and leadership because you think it results in growth, but you don't have a genuine interest in doing it, that can lead to less fulfillment, draining, and unhappiness with work.

There's absolutely a case to be made for depth and really going deep in your craft with seniority. A lot of companies have done some very cool things to make that possible, so that's something you want to look out for. They don't always have to go up into management to be able to grow your career.

Here's some examples of how that context might change. 

The context is going to have a big impact on the skills required to succeed in a role. 

That's something we want to think about, how that company makes their money, what's that function.

Then how those come together are going to affect the requirements on you to be able to do that. If you want to start to explore functions and see what's possible, we highly recommend you go to the functional channels within Slack. There's a lot of people there who are really excited to talk about their function grant and informational interviews. 

You just search for them. And then in the career council, we also have the functional channels where you can have more long form discussion and people are more than happy to do informational interviews. As you're exploring possibilities. 

What you really want to do is understand those industries and the occupations. Do some research, and use this criteria for sorting and filtering industries and occupations to help you find your ideal fit. 

  • Issues - what big questions, problems to solve, or topics interest you
  • Work Environment - what work setting is aligned with your values
  • Skills - what skills, experience, or education is required 
  • Job Responsibilities - what do you want your day to look like
  • Outlook - what is the career outlook for this field, expected salary range, and growth

Here are some sites and platforms to research industry and occupations:

As you research companies, use this criteria for sorting and filtering companies: 

Sites and platforms to research companies and organizations:

Lastly, we're going to focus on learning from people. As you think about exploring career options and learning more about what a particular function entails, informational interviews become a very powerful tool.

As you look on LinkedIn and you research roles and titles, you can find people that have that title or role that you're excited about. You want to be able to understand their career history, the functions that they've explored, the occupations they've had. Then eventually you're going to want to reach out to them and try to schedule that discussion so that you can learn and ask those questions.

Use Teal’s Informational Interview Guide to learn how to reach out to people and what questions to ask. 

As you're exploring different career opportunities, you want to make sure that these are jobs you'd be excited about and the skills required are ones that you either have or are excited about. 

We've built a tool for you, the Career Shift Research Tool, to start to track these and keep track of everything that we've covered in this class. The goal of this tool is to help you organize the process and start to use some of the structure that we’ve presented. Watch the video to walk through how it works. 

This little tool should help you plan the management of your skills and the companies that you'd be excited about as you think about your career shift and exploring these career opportunities.

Wrap Up

Our intent here was to expand the way that you think about occupations and the ways to go pursue the work that’s exciting for you. All these things really matter. It's really at the confluence of all those that's going to shape the kind of work that you do. 

We wanted to expose that to you. We wanted to give you some new dimensions to think about as you think about companies because too many times people just focus on the function, and they don't think about the way it's going to instantiate.

That's why we really wanted to equip you with that information. You can think more broadly about the kind of work that would be exciting for you, but also show you new ways to go out and explore and discover the different possibilities. 

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Dave Fano

Founder and CEO of Teal, Dave is a serial entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience building products & services to help people leverage technology and achieve more with less.

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