Career Plan Cheatsheet

In today’s class of Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition, AJ discussed an interesting but also critical question with us (a class of MBA students): how different career paths look like. AJ initiated this discussion because he wanted to convince us that starting a search fund was not a bad choice among all the options. Based on the framework introduced by AJ, I’d like to offer a modified version here to help my peers to plan their careers.

The most critical challenge for everyone is to understand him/herself. For me as an MBA student, I think the biggest takeaway from the two-year study is not the knowledge or the internship experience but a better understanding of myself. Through learning from my peers’ experience, preparing interviews for different companies, talking to alumni working in different industries, and getting my hands dirty with internships, I gradually learned about what I cared most, what I prioritized over the others, and what I wanted to do instead of other things.

Long story short. The five most critical things you need to think about are: income, impact, ownership, work-life-balance (WLB), and risk. Ask yourself five questions:

Q1: Do I really care about the income? To what extent? High, medium, low.

Q2: Do I really care about the impact of my work? High, medium, low.

Q3: Do I really care about the ownership of my work? High, medium, low.

Q4: Do I really care about the work-life-balance (WLB)? High, medium, low.

Q5: Do I really worry a lot about the potential risks (e.g. failure of a startup, limited exit options, etc.)? High, medium, low.

To get your answers, you can simply reflect with your past choices. Could I accept an income that is even lower than the average of that of my peers for a higher self-satisfactory in the short run? Did I ever take any risky actions that few of my peers would take? Did I ever get frustrated when I could not see big impacts of my works? Did I ever get annoyed when I could not control my final work? Did I ever feel tired of OT (overtime work)?

For example, my answers to the above questions are: Yes, I can accept; Yes, I joined the army during my college, and few of my peers did this; Yes, I got frustrated when I saw my client did not implement/care about my professional recommendations when I worked as an architect; Yes, I hate people who changed my work simply because he/she’s my boss; Yes, I felt tired of OT since it’s unnecessary in most cases. Therefore, I understood I was a risk-taking person and got my priorities: Impact > Ownership > WLB > Income > Risks.

Here is a table that can help you evaluate what matters most to you:

After knowing what matters most to me, I figured out that: consulting is not a good choice for me due to a lack of impact; corporate is not a good option for me due to the slow process of making impacts; investment banking is not a good option for me due to the bad WLB; startup can be a good option due to the potential big impacts (but it’s binary); venture capital can be a perfect option due to its non-binary big impacts through diversified investments. With two internships at a startup and a VC, I further confirmed that I wanted to work for either a VC or a startup.

Keep in mind that:

No career path can satisfy you on all the five aspects. (If you find any, please let me know.)

You should have your own preferences (priorities). The preferences of your peers are not yours. And you should never do something simply because many people believe that thing is good – this is the stupidest thing in the world, and I regret a lot for having done this before.

When AJ asked us whether we believed experience was important for starting a search fund, I deeply believed experience was not the most important factor for starting something. The reason is that: I know so many smart people who are risk-averse or do not know what they want to do. If you know clearly what you want to do and are highly determined to pursue it, you must have a much higher chance of success than the smart and experienced people – they will exit the game quickly once they encounter any unexpected challenges, while you will enjoy solving the challenges since you know this is the thing you want to do most.

Below is how I shortlisted my favorite career paths using the cheatsheet:


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