Build Your Skills, Not Your Resume

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Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook (insert snide comment about IPO here), shares some good career advice in her address to this year’s graduating class of HBS.

What I liked:

Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job, don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb.”

And further on:

“You’ll have to rely on what you know. Your strength will not come from your place on some org chart, your strength will come from building trust and earning respect.”

Everyone in Singapore is obsessed with titles. We assume that we all fit into these little boxes of a doctor/engineer/banker/lawyer/executive with a fancy title that come with our jobs. We assume that if we stick to the job and it checks all the boxes, we’d be happy and content, chugging along on our pleasant, 2-dimensional lives with a defined role and a jobscope. So if you’re an accountant, you’re supposed to be meticulous, quiet, unassuming, and emotionless. And if you’re in advertising, you’re supposed to be free-spirited, creative, and… lowly-paid.

But Sheryl’s speech reminded me that a career gives you a lot more than what the world stereotypes it to be.

My previous job posting was in operations – when I received my posting letter, I was like “WTF?! This has NOTHING to do with my degree!” (which was in Finance and Economics) And so I got annoyed. But 2 years into an ops job taught me how to negotiate with everyone from the airport authorities to a baggage handling agent, it taught me how to sweat the small stuff while keeping the big picture in sight, it taught me how to simultaneously juggle 4 ongoing projects, it taught me how to deal with 100 emails a day clamoring for my attention, it taught me how to set up systems that would run themselves, and it taught me how things really work. I don’t think I could have picked any of that up if I’d gone into my “preferred” department.

So hell yeah. I’m glad I did it. It gave me skills in areas that I sucked at, and gave me new business perspectives – real ones, not the theoretical, clinical, abstract ones behind a computer screen or an annual report. 3 weeks ago, I got moved to a new department in the same company, with a focus on a completely different skill set, one that was closer to what I studied, but not really. We’ll see where that takes me! 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Build Your Skills, Not Your Resume

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