“Buy low, sell high” career advice

This is the universal mantra for buying stocks, but it also needs to be your mantra when looking at potential employers.  You’ll be investing your time and energy into a company, so you need to choose wisely.

In theory, people pick stocks because they’re undervalued and there’s a lot of room for growth.  And, in theory, people should pick companies to work with for the same reasons.  But during a recession, people flip out and forget the value of having a long term strategy.  They sell their stocks at a loss, and they latch onto any company that’s willing to offer them the illusion of job security.  The latter, in particular, is an enormous problem for young people, because your career path can be unknowingly cemented in the formative years after you’ve graduated.

I don’t think there’s much to be gained by working for a company that’s fundamentally done growing.  And I’m not talking about margins or even the number of employees — I’m talking about the company’s goals.  If their goals consist of ‘Protect our assets’ and ‘Business as usual,’ then PASS.  You need to look at this as an investment for yourself, and these are the best years of your life to expose yourself to some risk.  You’re not investing in bonds and CD’s right now, are you?  You shouldn’t be, because they’re for old people who want to play it safe.  Similarly, corporate jobs are not for young people because they’re “safe” bets that won’t help you grow.  Don’t invest yourself into companies with zero-growth potential.

“But times are tough.  You need to take what you can get.”  I’ve heard this phrase ad nauseum for a year, and I don’t buy it.  Yes, times are tough, but you can still get a job you want if you learn valued skills, get some interesting experiences under your belt, and have a sound understanding of the psychology of hiring.

Once you get those areas taken care of, you need to actively seek out companies that align with your passions and ideals.  This is important, because it will lead to work that is both emotionally and spiritually sustainable.  And of course, you must also factor in how well this company will help you achieve your financial goals.

Big corporate jobs can be extremely tempting (think of the paycheck!), but it’s the equivalent of buying stock in Coca-Cola.  Yea, it’s a safe investment, but don’t expect a significant return (even over the course of 10 to 20 years).  Their growth phase is largely over.

In my experience, most of these corporations are just too boring to work for in the first place.  Companies that have an insane amount of money tend to move painfully slow, and they usually have a fleeting interest in any of your ideas to speed them up.  Their strategy will be ‘Steady as she goes’ until they coast to a stop many, many years later.  The reality is that their business model, no matter how antiquated it might seem today, made them into what they are.  In other words, they’re rightfully conviced that they know what they’re talking about.  So why should they listen to all of your strange, half-baked ideas when they have such a great track record?  Answer: They shouldn’t, and they won’t.

Now, you might think it’d be more fulfilling to work with entrepreneurs, and you’d be right… to an extent.  You have to know what you’re getting into first.  If you want to help a brand new start up and none of the people have any experience in running a business, that’s like investing in a $0.20 stock with “HUGE POTENTIAL” that you read about on Yahoo Stocks.  Statistically speaking, they’re probably going to fail, so invest sparingly.

These poor entrepreneurs who have debt up to their eyes can be just as frustrating to work with as the corporations, because they truly cannot pay you.  They have more important things to allocate their money towards, like actually selling their product and getting their business on its feet.  You might love the work, but you better have another job on the side.

That being said, I consistently find myself getting excited whenever I’m working with any start up.  While most of them aren’t big winners (in terms of me getting paid), they are still a lot of fun.  Anything you contribute has the potential to make a substantial impact on the company.  You’re not a pawn, like you would be in the corporate world; you’re a major player.

But the sweet spot is when you find an entrepreneur who has built up just enough traction, and now they’re looking to take things to the next level.  They have a successful track record, but in their minds, the successes they’ve had are relatively minor to what they really want to accomplish.  These people are not only fun to work with, but they actually listen and care about your well-being.  They were in your position not so long ago, so they understand where you’re coming from and are willing to help you grow and learn in exchange for helping them.  And most importantly, these people are more likely to succeed quickly.  If they did it once, then they can almost certainly do it again… but even faster this time around.  It’s called momentum.

Those are the types of people you need to seek out.  They are the best of all of your career investment options, because no matter what they’ve achieved thus far, they’re still on the upswing.

By Charlie Hoehn Tagged

5 comments on ““Buy low, sell high” career advice

  1. I love this post. I really like it when you do inspirational posts, vs don’t do this/that (which of course are helpful too just not as much fun to read!)


  2. …because your career path can be unknowingly cemented in the formative years after you’ve graduated.

    Great post as always, Charlie, but is this necessarily true? I’ve always thought of that notion as fairly similar to the one that “you need to know what kind of career to seek before declaring your major.” Most people (especially successful people) don’t seem to succeed in the field they originally chose upon graduating.

    If you mean in terms of giving into the status quo and accepting a job that’s a “safe” bet, then I agree with you to some extent. (How often does one actually willingly quit one of those jobs, after all, to pursue something riskier? Too easy to become complacent.) Otherwise, from what I’ve observed, a career evolves over years before one settles into their niche.

    Of course, this is all conjecture…

  3. @Ilan- Yea, this is a good sentence to point out because I didn’t explain myself very well. I don’t really think anyone’s career path can be set in stone so quickly. In fact, I think any notion of being pigeon-holed is mostly an illusion — you can leave and do something else pretty easily.

    But my theory is that people get “stuck” in shitty jobs that they grow to hate because with that paycheck comes an increase in lifestyle. A new car, and a girlfriend, then a wife, and a house payment, and debt, and a kid, etc. Money problems build upon each other until the person feels trapped — they have to stay at their job just so they can afford the lifestyle they’ve created. You can make the argument that people can snap out of this, like Ed Norton in ‘Fight Club,’ but you know that most of them don’t.

    My point is that it’s not about getting stuck in a career. It’s about unknowingly creating a prison for yourself with the financial decisions that come with a career, and the difficulty of getting back onto your desired path after you’ve reached a certain point. With each passing year of NOT doing what you love, it becomes harder and harder to turn around. And that’s why it’s dangerous to just “take what you can get.” It’s not worth it in the long run.

  4. Like the post but cringed at the investment advice ;) Bonds = “uncool” or “too safe”?

    Picking stocks is like playing Roulette. Bonds are finally priced right again with more reward for risk. There have been plenty of studies in academia that show that 100% portfolio is insane and that the only way to maximize returns is to create a balanced portfolio. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_portfolio_theory

  5. Oh man, I love it, Bjoern. Tearing away at my offhanded comment about bonds :)

    Alright, alright — I personally have 10% of my money invested in bonds BUT the other 90% is in stocks. I’m not picking individual stocks either.

    And if anyone is making investment decisions based solely on that comment, then they’re idiots.

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