I was in Washington D.C. speaking at Georgetown, my Alma Mater. Friend and professor Jeff Reid hosted a reunion of our MBA class and invited us to speak to students currently in the program. I shared my own ups and downs of running a business and how it compelled me to write But Are You Making Any Money? Yet, one of the most compelling talks came from my friend, Professor Sandeep Dahiya. Based on his observations and those of people in his network, there’s a phenomena happening: more and more people in their late 40s are finding that they have to start over. Which is why entrepreneurship is an imperative.

Good Performance Doesn’t Guarantee Success

Competition is very steep, and at every promotion level there is a culling of the herd. When a VP position opens up—the one you and a dozen other mid-level execs have been working toward, some are not going to make it. I mean, there can’t be three vice presidents, right?! Though it seems counterintuitive to everything we’ve been taught, performance seems to have very little to do with moving up the ladder. In fact, working very hard only works well for the first ? of your life. It gets you good grades that get you into good schools. That, in turn, gets you your first job at a Fortune 500 company. Then, the formula stops working.

Losing Opportunities To Restructuring

There are a lot of politics involved. You can be let go because somebody three levels above you was also let go and they were your report-to. Strategic changes happen constantly within companies—look at Carl’s Jr right now. A new CEO has stepped in and announced he wants to change the brand entirely, moving away from sexy advertising in place of something wholesome. A restructuring of departments can be all it takes. Which is why there is frustration among people losing opportunities, or their job entirely, after they’ve “done everything right” for years and put in the time. These changes are also heavily felt by extremely qualified 30-year-olds because there is a whole army of them. But these are the people that are actually very employable somewhere else and why entrepreneurship is key.

If you’re a Senior Vice President or Managing Director, it’s very hard to get that same position at another firm. They have their own people coming through the pipeline as well as their own culture. Here’s where people go wrong. They spend 6 to 8 months looking for a new position similar to the one they lost at a similar kind of company. And almost always, they learn they aren’t going to get it. Think of it this way: if an organization in which you already had connections, a network, and human capital didn’t promote you, why would an outside company that has their own people give you a bump up?

Finding A Better Approach

The cruelty of the situation is that many of those companies will interview you. They'll give you hope. But it’s only to check the boxes in order to say that they conducted a thorough search. After a year, most people decide they either have to start a business, or join a much smaller company. Sandeep's advice to people in this situation is to put aside ego. Yeah, maybe you were the director of such n’ such at a huge corporation and now you’re the CEO of some small company nobody’s ever heard of. That’s okay. Because chances are you’re going to have a better life balance and lot more money.

If this is how things work, how should a person just starting out approach their career?

According to Sandeep, “At every job, your first responsibility is to find another job.” Go to work for a Fortune 500 company right out of business school. But your goal in 5 years should be working at a company half the size, with twice the responsibility. (Brilliant, right?!) That way, you’re not forced to look for another job at a smaller company when you’re 45-years-old and desperate. Let’s face it, if you’re a Marketing Director at P&G, Steve Madden would love to hire you as their North American Brand Manager. From there, you can slide into a position at an even smaller company as Chief Marketing Officer.

By using this approach, you join the small company when you want to, not when you have to. In Sandeep’s experience, most people find their next job through someone they knew at the big company. Someone who left to start their own company. Small companies and startups don’t have a pipeline of their own people coming up, so they have to look to the outside.

For more business tips and career advice, check out these other articles or contact me if you’re thinking about starting your own business and need strategies for how to make it happen!

Advice From A Business Master

Getting Started? Advice For Young Entrepreneurs

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