Am I in the right role?

Thinking through growth and impact to identify your next career move

I’m excited to collaborate with Dan and Nikki Gusz, co-founders of Lloyd. A few weeks ago, they asked me to join a panel about side projects—hence the inspiration for this previous post.

Today, we’re tackling a topic that is top of mind for many in this community. As you may have seen the headlines, LinkedIn—my former employer—announced it was laying off ~1,000 employees. In turn, lots of my former colleagues are now searching for their next play. We hope that this post can provide additional structure to help you pinpoint your next play and overcome this adversity.

And, with no further ado, here’s today’s grid:

One of my close friends is going through a major career pivot. After about 4.5 years in the social media and community building space, he’s doing a 180-degree turn. He wants to become a social worker or therapist. Right now, he’s preparing graduate school applications to pursue a Masters in Social Work. A second degree—a Doctorate in Psychology—is on his radar, too. In my friend’s words (emphasis is my own):

“I think my main motivation was feeling a sense of responsibility to meaningfully help people and felt that while engaging with fans on social media and managing community events brought happiness to people in a one-to-many capacity, it was all kind of surface-level interaction and fleeting pleasure. I just didn’t really see a career path on the current road that didn’t involve me using social media forever for work, and having watched tons of TED talks about how detrimental social media is for society and mental health, I felt a little apprehensive about helping perpetuate the habit to lots of other people.”

Whoa. The level of self-reflection and honesty required to get this point should be admired. To us, here’s what my friend is saying: the level of personal growth he could have going forward in his current job was too small and that the impact his company had on the world (while wide-reaching) was too minor.

My friend’s thought process mirrors the grid we are discussing today. This post is all about career adjustments. How do we use our professional experiences as the inputs to help us determine what’s next for our careers?

On the x-axis, we have the level of impact your current company has on the world. Impact, here, can mean many things. Does your company give to charity? Does your company build a product or provide a service that improves the lives of others? When you are employed at an organization that makes a sizeable and meaningful impact, it leads to strong workplace satisfaction. Studies show that when you’re attached to a company’s mission, you’re 54% more likely to stay at that company for five years.

On the y-axis, we have the level of professional growth you have in your current role. When we say professional growth, we’re talking about building skills that are valuable and fulfilling. Being in a role where you aren’t learning something new can be crushing. You feel underutilized and underworked. When you can improve (rapidly) it leads to greater role satisfaction—research indicates you are 94% more likely to stay at your current company longer.

Understanding the Grid

The ideal quadrant on this grid is the top right—it’s the professional jackpot. However, regardless of where you land, this grid can bring clarity to what the next best action is for your career. We all deserve to do meaningful, high-impact, and challenging work. Don’t settle for working at a company or having a deeply unsatisfying role.

Sweet Spot

Your company has a meaningful impact on the world, and your role has strong professional growth opportunities. These roles are “dream jobs.” The ever-elusive, TED talk-hyped role where you feel as if there is nothing else you should be doing (and you happen to make money for it, too). These roles check off the two most important professional boxes: a company you can believe in and a role that provides significant development opportunities. Sweet Spot jobs are difficult to find early on in your career. That’s because to find yourself in a Sweet Spot, you typically need to endure roles and companies that are bad fits. Understanding what aspects of work bring you displeasure can be the best way to determine what aspects could bring you joy. Thus, being unhappy at work tends to drive professional clarity. To get here, though, requires candid self-awareness. Being in a Sweet Spot is special—some people spend their entire lives at the wrong companies and in the wrong roles. Take advantage of the time you have when you are in this quadrant. It’s rare and incredibly valuable as the work you are doing can exponentially accelerate your career.

Explore Internal Opportunities

Your company has a meaningful impact on the world, but your role has minimal professional growth opportunities. You may love the company. It may, to quote Silicon Valley and almost every tech company, be “making the world a better place.”

However, your role at this company could be the absolute wrong fit. Back when I worked at LinkedIn, this happened to me. Early in my tenure, I was in roles that didn’t lead to professional growth in areas that I desired. It caused me to feel unsatisfied with my work. However, because I loved LinkedIn’s mission, vision, and culture, I wanted to find a new role that was a better match for my skill set and career goals. In this case, pursuing new opportunities internally is a way for you to take a half step towards finding the Sweet Spot. You have the company nailed down. All that’s left is finding a role where you can thrive and grow.

Consider New Company

Your company has minimal impact on the world, but your role has strong professional growth opportunities. Here, you may love what you’re doing on a day to day basis, but your company is somehow falling short. A good example could be someone who works in advertising. Let’s say you are in love with your job as an account manager. You love the type of work you do with your clients—helping them achieve their business goals through raising awareness and driving traffic to their products and services. However, your clients aren’t necessarily your cup of tea. You may be allergic to cats and dogs, but your client is in the pet food industry. Considering a new company in this scenario should be the next best step. Perhaps at a new firm, you’d be able to have a client that meshed with your core values. Like the Explore Internal Opportunities quadrant, when you’re in this quadrant you’re just one adjustment away from landing a job in the Sweet Spot.

Pursue a Career Pivot

Your company has minimal impact on the world, and your role has minimal professional growth opportunities. Here, it’s time to go back to the drawing board—both your role and your company are wrong fits given your long-term interests and goals. Channel my friend’s energy from the top of today’s post. Be relentless and honest in pursuing work that motivates and drives you. Making a major career adjustment is challenging work. It requires learning something new. It requires starting from the bottom. However, if you believe in your vision for yourself and your career, you can make it happen. To make the transition easier, networking with others who are currently in the industry and the role you’re looking to pursue is key. These people can help fill in answers you can’t Google. Any big career pivot starts with conversations with experts and ends with a leap of faith. Be fearless. You deserve it.

Grid Shortcomings

There are three shortcomings with today’s grid:

  1. This grid ignores compensation as an essential element of employment. We all can’t be lucky to find ourselves working at the crosshairs of high company impact and professional growth. We all have responsibilities, people to support, and bills to pay. Sometimes you need to prioritize compensation over job satisfaction to (literally) keep the lights on.

  2. This grid ignores the personal impact you can have via your role. While learning in your role is important, the level of impact you can have in your role is vitally important, too. A decent example here is doctors. While I’m sure doctors learn plenty, I have to believe the bigger selling point is the extreme impact they can have on their patients.

  3. This grid ignores plenty of factors that make working at a specific company enjoyable. While we believe that the impact your company makes on the world is the strongest indicator of your satisfaction working there, we recognize that other aspects play a sizeable role, too. Factors such as your coworkers, your commute, your work-life harmony, your company’s organizational structure, or your geographic location all play a role.

To everyone reading this who is experiencing immense change now—be it through layoffs, coronavirus, or anything else—we hope this grid can provide some clarity where there is confusion. Finding the right role given your passions, skill sets, and interests is tough work. It requires relentless improvement over time, self-honesty, and the inner-grit to never settle when you know there are greener pastures out there waiting.

Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,
Ross, Nikki, & Dan

If you enjoyed today’s Gridology post, please consider forwarding it to your friends, family, or colleagues. If you want more from Nikki & Dan, know that they are hosting a virtual event on how to pursue a career in sustainability later this week. As always, please reply back to this note if you have any feedback or future ideas.