What can big data tell us about career development choices? LinkedIn economist, Guy Berger, PhD examined the career paths of over 450,000 LinkedIn members globally to uncover some useful insights. He tracked professionals that had worked at the largest well-known consulting firms between 1990 and 2010 and then moved to industry. About 64,000 became vice presidents or C-suite executives at companies with at least 200 employees. The LinkedIn survey illustrated what numerous other studies have shown. Those having successful careers are intellectually curious and committed to continuous learning. Channeling that learning can have an even greater impact on your career advancement.
Dr. Berger was able to draw important correlations between career transitions, work experiences, gender and educational backgrounds that lead to senior leadership career advancement. Having broad and multidisciplinary work experience significantly increased the chances of obtaining a senior leadership position, and shortened the time to achieving it as well. Although, an MBA from one of the top 5 U.S. programs was the factor most related to a person’s likelihood of becoming a senior executive, graduation from an elite program is not the only path. A commitment to continuous learning in the right areas can make a huge difference.
The study showed that it helped to have work exposure across a business’s many functional areas and disciplines. This includes experience in management systems, supply chain, marketing strategy, information technology, finance, regulatory environment, human resources and how others get work done. Many companies have programs that rotate employees through various job functions to develop their talent. Marc Andreessen, tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist, observed: “The most successful corporate leaders are almost never the best product visionaries, or the best marketing people, or the best finance people, or even the best managers, but they are in the top 25% in some set of those skills.” This interdisciplinary approach provides a distinct differentiation that enables people to lead more effectively.
Learning boosts career advancement and teachers are everywhere for those who seek to learn. They are both inside and outside of the organization, and teachers can be at any level. For example, the technology specialist that regularly interfaces with the sales department and with her organization’s customers is better positioned to understand the demands of her company’s complex market environment. Customers are teachers and smart companies partner with them and co-develop products with them. Taking advantage of such broad learning opportunities builds in depth industry knowledge and grows personal networks.
The LinkedIn study found that while changing companies within an industry had no material effect on advancement, changing industries had a somewhat negative effect. After someone changes industries it takes an investment of time and effort to reestablish the networks and rebuild industry knowledge.
The advantages will go to those who prioritize developing their leadership capacity, move outside their comfort zone and take a risk to gain knowledge. They take on stretch assignments, even if they are uncomfortable doing so. They listen intently and are flexible in their thinking. They are intellectually honest and humble, deeply understanding that they do not know it all. They have the courage to ask for feedback and learn from their mistakes. The new insights gained will allow them to gain greater understanding of the organization as a whole, and greater understanding of the customers, ensuring that they continue to add significant value to their own organization and the opportunities that lie ahead.