Google Chairman’s Surprising Career Advice to Young Leaders

Over 2 million people apply each year at Google. Here’s another way to look at it. It’s almost ten times harder to get a job at Google than it is to get into Harvard. Nearly everyone wants to work for “Greatest Company in United States.” Great Place to Work Institute and CareerBliss has consistently ranked Google as the top career destination for students, recent grads, and young professionals.

how-google-works-2014-10-08In the last few weeks, I read How Google Works” authored by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and former VP of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg. They provide an insightful window into the inner workings of Google’s organizational and leadership practices. They share various lessons on culture, strategy, decision making, innovation, and talent which propelled Google as a global icon. Anyone curious about modern business and leadership should read this book.

Here are 8 pieces of brilliant advice from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt to young professionals on how to navigate their career.

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1. Treat your career like you’re surfing.

When people are right out of school, they tend to prioritize company first, then job, then industry. But at this point in their career that is exactly wrong order. The right industry is paramount, because while you will likely switch companies several times in your career, it is much harder to switch industries. Think of the industry as the place you surf… and the company as the wave you catch. You always want to be in the place with the biggest and best waves.”

Since stock options and other forms of equity are limited for newer employees anyway, the best investment you can make in your career is developing expertise in an industry that is transforming and growing.

“It’s not just the internet companies that have a big upside, but also energy, pharmaceuticals, high-tech manufacturing, advertising, media, entertainment, and consumer electronics,” they write. “But even businesses like energy and pharmaceuticals, where product cycle times are long, are ripe for massive transformation and opportunity.”

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2. Always listen for those who get technology.

Even if you’re not going to work in Silicon Valley, you’ll want to work at a company that knows where technology is going and what impact it is having and will have in its industry, since these will be the companies that thrive while others die or stagnate.

Schmidt says that a simple way to tell if a particular company “gets it” is to look at how it’s adapted to industry changes in the past, as well as taking a look at the company’s leadership. If a company’s CEO has a history of entrepreneurship and tech, there’s a better chance the company will be able to grow or remain strong.

For example, Bill Gates and Paul Allen saw that chips and computers were getting cheap and that software would be the key to the future of computing, so they started Microsoft. Reid Hoffman knew that the connecting power of the web would be vital to professionals, so he started LinkedIn.

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3. Develop a five-year plan.

Rosenberg writes that he’s a big fan of the following advice from the musician, satirist, and mathematician Tom Lehrer: “Life is like a sewer: What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.”

He and Schmidt recommend that young professionals write a five-year plan that answers the following:

“Where do you want to be? What do you want to do? How much do you want to make? If you saw this job on a website, what would the posting look like? What does your résumé look like?” Even try to get an idea of where you’d like to be 10 years from now.

In the context of this ideal, figure out how you’ll take advantage of your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses. And if you conclude that you’re ready to start your dream job today, you’re not dreaming big enough.

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4. Statistics is the new plastics.

“We are in the era of big data, and big data needs statisticians to make sense of it. The democratization of data means that those who can analyze it well will win. Data is the sword of the twenty-first century, those who wield it well, the samurai,” Schmidt and Rosenberg write.

That doesn’t mean you should rush out to grab a stats textbook if you never studied it in school, but you should at least be familiar with the way your company crunches data and how you can use that information to perform at a higher level.

Asking the questions and interpreting the answers is as important a skill as coming up with the answers themselves. No matter your business, learn how the right data, crunched the right way, will help you make better decisions.

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5. Learn as much as possible about your company and industry.

“At Google, we always tell people who come to us seeking advice to ingest the founders’ letter from our 2004 IPO and all the internal strategy memos that Eric and Larry [Page] subsequently wrote,” Schmidt and Rosenberg write. They explain that most people at the company think they’re too busy to read them, but that they’re missing out by not prioritizing their company’s values and strategy.

Do the same at your own company, and don’t stop there. Be on top of industry news and develop a network of other people in your field and keep each other informed, the authors explain.

One of the best and easiest ways to get ahead in the field is to know more about it. The best way to do that is to read.

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6. Know Your Elevator Pitch

Imagine that you run into your CEO in the hallway and they ask you what you’re working on. You’ve only got 30 seconds.

This shouldn’t be just a rhetorical exercise. You should always be able to concisely explain what you’re working on, what’s driving it, how your success is being measured, and how it fits into the big picture.

“Job seeks should also have an elevator pitch. This shouldn’t be a condensed version of your resume, but should rather highlight its most interesting parts along with what you want to do and the impact you know you will have – the benefit to the customer and the company. What can you say that no one else can?”

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7. Go somewhere new.

Schmidt and Rosenberg say if you have a chance to start your career in a place outside of your comfort zone, you should go for it.

Business, “regardless of size or scope, is permanently global, while humans are naturally provincial.” Don’t get trapped in a bubble where you subconsciously assume that all of your clients and the rest of the industry inhabits the same part of the world as you do.

They recommend taking any opportunities to work abroad at your company while you’re young, and if those opportunities don’t arise, then get an idea of your industry’s presence in other parts of the world whenever you travel. For example, if you’re in media, pick up a newspaper at whatever place you’re visiting and see how they may have been interpreting news differently from where you’re coming from.

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8. Find a way to combine passion and contribution.

In her Barnard commencement speech, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution.”

Schmidt and Rosenberg agree that one of your everlasting career goals should be finding a way to not only love what you do, but do something that provides you with a comfortable life and makes an impact on the world.

Of course, the authors understand the difficulty of striking this balance and recommend a measured approach. “Make your five-years-out ideal job closer to your if-only-I-could dream job, yet attainable from your current path,” they write.

Question: If you’re looking for a new job, what piece of advice will you implement?