In Your Tech Career, the Majority Is Wrong

Posted on April 21, 2015. Filed under: Career Management, Women in IT, Work Issues |

tech careerA long time ago, someone gave me what has turned out to be invaluable career management advice:

The majority is wrong.

Now, whenever I share this advice, no matter how many examples I give of where this has been true for me, or how many successful business gurus I quote (who all essentially say the same thing), I get lots of appeals to the contrary.

In fact, it is so unpopular that most of my career services friends disagree.

(Certainly, our educational system disagrees, but I digress.)

The reason for this disagreement, in my opinion, is that it makes us uncomfortable, especially us Americans. We like to talk about majority rule. And in today’s corporate world, we like to talk about breaking down the barriers between leadership and staff and operating from a “majority” position.

In corporate speak, unity is all the rage and lone rangers are met with a bit of scorn.

We are taught to believe that if we aren’t for “unity” (which really is code for “agreement” in this context), then we aren’t a good team member.

Really, though, if we take it to its core, as humans, we like “safety in numbers.” It comforts us, validates us, gives us a sense of kinship when we’re part of the majority.

What is pop culture, after all, if not an attempt to define majority opinion … what’s good in fashion, music, etc.? And the last thing we really like to be is out of fashion, especially at work.

The problem, though, is that when it comes to our careers, in particular, this is a losing strategy.

How do I know? How can I say such things? Because I come across it each and every day with my corporate client members, and I experience it with my own small business. It’s a lose – lose – lose (even sometimes when it feels like a win!).

In my corporate director days, we had lots of internal unwritten “rules” surrounding how promotions worked and when. And many people bought into them hook, line, and sinker. No one was promoted without X years of experience or X credential or during X time of year. I secretly thought they were ridiculous, as they had little to do with good business sense, and by the time I was through, quietly broke each and every one. That’s not to brag; it’s more to say that my colleagues who drank the Kool-Aid ended up wondering why it was so bitter. (There were certainly plenty of other times when I let the majority get to me.)

See, instead of helping you build a unique career path, the majority will put you on a long, seemingly “safe” march. Where anyone is going and how you’re all going to get there, it isn’t clear, but it is comforting to the rest of the pack to know you won’t fall too far out of line and when you’re deemed “worthy,” maybe you can move up a few spots. It also gets your eyes focused on the wrong things, like on internal politics instead of on good business sense, which leads to better career options.

Here’s the deal, though: Just because the majority is wrong doesn’t mean you have to be a rebel.

This isn’t a question of attitude. It’s a question of strategy. Be friendly. Be social to a point. But look for ways to differentiate. Resist the temptation to follow the herd, and be especially wary of the “never ever” and “always only” declarations.

Sounds simple, but it isn’t. The majority can be very persuasive.

Sound-minded people whom you look up to will be on that march with you. Your family members will reinforce the notion that if you stick with the pack, you are “safe.” Sometimes the majority will even seem logical, especially when it mixes in a little fear.

But don’t lose sight of some key market “truths” that the majority often likes to distort.

1. Specialists get paid more, much more.

It’s been true. It will be true. And here’s why:

2. Leaders will come and leaders will go, but results and profitability will rule the day.

Too few corporate professionals are willing to think in terms of results and profits. For some reason, doing so is distasteful to them. It sounds so, well, capitalistic. It seems to mean somehow that if you care about these things, then you don’t care about “people.” Again, that has become a majority opinion. Our universities love to spout it. But results and profitability are about people as they build healthy companies with improved job security for its employees and financial stability for their families. (Of course, there is greed to contend with, and unscrupulous business practices, but since when do we throw the baby out with the bath water?)

So pick a specialty that allows for improvement in results and profitability. Make sure you can speak to how that equates to value. Too many professionals want to talk about credentials when they should be talking value. Understanding the difference will make a much bigger impact for you and for the organization(s) you serve in your career.

3. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. So get over it.

Some people like to argue with me that if you don’t drink the Kool-Aid, you’ll be an outcast. Shoved out the door. Blacklisted. And it is true that you face some risk by being an outlier, the one who didn’t participate with as much, um, enthusiasm. But you face bigger consequences if you stay on that long march. The majority wants you to think it provides comfort and security, that is, until the wind shifts. And believe me, the breeze doesn’t have to blow too hard to get a glimpse of where all that unity ends up.

If you really care about being a team player, the welfare of the company you work for, and the stability of your career, you’ll take steps today to be more mindful of what the majority is saying and doing and how you can break free from it. You’ll be willing to risk some of that comfort and so-called stability for a much greater, long-term payoff.

 

Stephen Van VreedeAbout Stephen—-

Stephen Van Vreede is not your average IT/technical résumé writer. He provides career strategy and concierge job search solutions for senior (15+ years) (ITtechExec) and up-and-coming (NoddlePlace) (5-15 years) tech and technical operations leaders. Stephen and his team focus on building simplified, targeted, and certain career move campaigns, be it an external search or an internal promotion. He is co-author of UNcommon with career development leader Brian Tracy (out June 11, 2015). Contact Stephen directly at Stephen@ittechexec.com or send him an invite at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephenvanvreede. To see whether Stephen and his team are a good fit for you, take their free (and anonymous) 1-minute compatibility quiz, Is the ITtechExec Approach a Good Match for You? Also, feel free to take his complimentary resume self-assessment quiz, How Certain Can You Be About Your Technical Resume? You might be surprised by what you find out!

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