Mark Herschberg is the author of The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. From tracking criminals and terrorists on the dark web to creating marketplaces and new authentication systems, Mark has spent his career launching and developing new ventures at startups and Fortune 500s and in academia. He helped to start the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, dubbed MIT’s “career success accelerator,” where he teaches annually. At MIT, he received a B.S. in physics, a B.S. in electrical engineering & computer science, and a M.Eng. in electrical engineering & computer science, focusing on cryptography. At Harvard Business School, Mark helped create a platform used to teach finance at prominent business schools. He also works with many non-profits, including Techie Youth and Plant A Million Corals. He was one of the top-ranked ballroom dancers in the country and now lives in New York City, where he is known for his social gatherings, including his annual Halloween party, as well as his diverse cufflink collection.
On Career Changes Midlife
“This is my third recession and I’m only mid-career. So I, I very much see and understand what they’re going through. In fact, during the great recession, I helped teach at a program sponsored by New York’s Economic Development Council, in which we were taking people who lost not simply their job, but their career. Their entire career was getting displaced and not coming back post-recession. And New York said to us: We can’t have them sitting on the sidelines. These are capable people. How do we get them back to work? We looked at where the jobs were being created and the nature of those jobs, typically the people being displaced were coming from large corporations. So certainly coming out of 2008, 2009, lots of financial services, lots of big companies where you had multiple layers of bureaucracy. The jobs being created were in tiny companies in startups, in companies, less than 50 people, sometimes less than 20 people. The biggest change was trying to get people to see those jobs and feel comfortable in those jobs. It wasn’t so much a domain skill challenge. It’s not that. If you’ve been at big corporations, your whole life, look at these small companies and then recognize that cultural difference.
So if you’re in a big company of 30,000 people, you’re used to having the pre-meeting to plan the meeting, to coordinate the meeting for the meeting to discuss something. So at six months later, decisions made when you’re at these tiny 20 person startups, and you say, Hey, I have an idea. So you turn around in your chair and you’re talking to the boss, who’s sitting three feet from you in another chair because there are no offices here. And the boss says, okay, that sounds great. Well, that was the meeting. Those were the six months condensed to a six-minute conversation and understanding these cultural differences, how the businesses operate, that you can move fast and break things, which is very different from these big traditional corporations. That was the biggest challenge. And so to people who are saying, I need to find something different. It’s not just the same job with a different company. Look at different types of companies and understand it’s not just going to be the mechanics of the role, but understand the cultural differences. And if you can set yourself up to succeed in that, both recognizing how you’ll operate, but also how you sell yourself into working in those networks, in those types of organizations and cultures, then you can have a very successful career and find a lot of options.”
On Career Planning
“Eisenhower famously said: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. And we have to recognize a career plan is not simply a plan you make and now you’re stuck to it. Forevermore, all of us in our jobs have been planning. If you think about any project you’ve worked on, could you ever have gone to your boss and said, Hey, listen, boss, I know we’re going to work on this for six months. We’re not going to bother with a project plan. We’re just going to kind of wing it. That sounds good to you because your boss is going to say No way! You have to create a plan. I want to know where this is going. What are the risks? What are the opportunities? How might this unfold? Now we also know when you’re doing this six-month project or a year-long or however long project, it’s never going to work exactly.
As you expected, things go over budget over time. Something was harder. Occasionally something’s easier. But when you have that plan, you can start to say, Well, we’re going to now vary the plan. We’re going to update the plan. We’re off the plan. But maybe that’s a good thing because we realize that plan was wrong. But you created that plan in the first place. Your career is a lot bigger than a six-month project. You need to create that plan, but much like the plans, we have for our projects, you’re not set in stone. If it’s not working, you can throw it out. You can create a new plan and the act of planning itself of thinking about what are the risks, what are the opportunities? Where are the things I need to focus on? Where are the areas that are less important now, as things change now, as things come up, as you’ve thought through it.”
“You want a large network. You also like a broad network, too many people think, well, I’m in Medicine. So I only need to know people in Medicine. In fact, you want to meet people in other areas because the diversity, it adds to your network leads to new opportunities that you might not have gotten otherwise. Because remember when you’re connected to someone you’re connected to everyone they know. And you never know when you need to get into a new area where you don’t have yourself, a deep bench, or maybe it just turns out this person, their cousin happens to also be in medicine and it circles back to how it can help you.
But the biggest mistake people make is they just think, Well, I’m just going to add connections and they don’t foster that relationship. I always talk about how adding someone on LinkedIn and saying that they are now in your network. It’s like swiping right on Tinder and saying this person’s now your significant other. We all know you can’t just swipe right. And say, now I have a girlfriend, now I have a wife, right? You have to build that relationship. And the same is true for our professional relationships. So that instant connection that gang, the business card or adding on LinkedIn, that’s step one. That’s a swipe, right? What you want to do is invest in building that relationship. Now you may not have done that in the past, but you can start doing that today. And it doesn’t take that long. Even a few months of starting to build up that relationship.
Now that network is warmed up. So when you need help down the road, whether finding a job, finding a candidate, finding a supplier, a partner, just getting information, that network has been warmed up and now you can go to it. And you’re not reaching out to someone you haven’t talked to in 20 years. It’s someone you last spoke to three months ago. So start today, reach back out to people. It’s a great time. Now, as we’re getting out of the pandemic, reach out and say, Hey, glad we’re getting through this. How are you doing? What’s coming up for you? How can I be of help? And even if you’re not working, even if you don’t have a job, we can all be of help to other people. So reach out connect, say, how have you been? What are you looking forward to? How can I be helpful to you and warm up those networks?”
For More on Mark Herschberg
(in my opinion, this is an excellent graduation gift to consider
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