Engineering to AlphaSights: Shifting My Career Thinking
Up until my final year of college, I believed I would follow my father’s footsteps as an Engineer. I would work for a large, industrial company, follow a linear career trajectory and, through hard work, I would end up in a management position in a corporate hierarchy. I knew I didn’t love what I would be doing but I always thought that that didn’t matter much.
When I went to grad school, I quickly realised how intense my studies were. I was placed in a class of incredibly intelligent students, who spent their time mulling over advanced theories of fluid mechanics, applications of metal matrix syntactic foams and iterative computer simulations - they simply loved it. It was there that I realised that perseverance and consistent action are critical for success, even if you don’t love every element of what you do.
At that point, I decided I had to shift my career thinking; and although I wasn’t sure of what my passion was, I knew what my passion wasn’t. As I neared the end of grad school it was clear that the world was changing. Automation and globalisation meant that most jobs held by previous generations were being replaced by machines. These macro trends continue to shift the core skill sets required for most challenging careers.
Keeping this shifting landscape in mind, as we graduate college, we realise things are not as certain as our parents had it. Some of our peers have their futures tied up in a neat box; they know their passion and they know where they want to go. But they are few and far between. The rest of us spend hours upon hours, debating our strengths and weaknesses and wondering how we will ever find our true passions. Whilst I haven’t yet found the answer, I do believe that despite the uncertainty that may fog the way, there are certain guiding lights we can use as we make our choices (whose timelines can’t be delayed and have to inevitably be made). These are:
1) Talent concentrations
Like college, classes around the world are becoming very similar. What separates the best colleges comes down to the people around you. The debates you have with your peers and mentorship you receive from professors will be invaluable. The same applies in the workplace and when you choose your first job; you want to absorb as much as you can. That is greatly facilitated by the talent around you, and that is what I have found at AlphaSights. My mentor during my first weeks of training in Hong Kong was an Engineer like myself. At the age of 23 and in the space of a year, he had grown a client account from the ground up and led a team of young, energetic people. Having never studied business academically and only a year out of school, he was able to clearly explain supply line efficiency, distressed debt and the most complex of value chains. With driven, motivated people around you, your development is not only inevitable, but continuous and fun.
2) Business diversity
Companies have very quickly realised that to ensure holistic operations, they must put together multidisciplinary teams - categorised as diversity of thought. To facilitate culturally tuned global operations, they must put together teams of different backgrounds and languages - categorised as diversity of people. And to keep up with the ever changing landscapes, they must give young high performers leadership opportunities faster - categorised as diversity of experience. All of these factors should push you to look for a job that furthers your ability to deal with different types of people in different situations.
3) A will to swift and vigorous action
Companies may have an intelligent, diverse workforce but struggle with execution. It is imperative to surround yourself with people who are “doers”. If you have an idea, you need a bias-to-action to execute it, without fear of failure. If an initiative fails, it may well be the stepping stone to the next disruptive, ground-breaking idea. AlphaSights is a high-growth company, so there is room to take the initiative, no matter how recently you may have joined. That will be the edge you gain on any of your peers who join established companies with precedent and bureaucracies that can stifle innovation and risk.
All in all, leaving college teaches you that it's imperative to understand that while working hard is a necessary ingredient to success, it is far from sufficient. Learning to navigate the uncertainty of the world is achieved through experience, and not just any type of experience. The type of experience you learn from talented, driven individuals around you, who take risks and grapple with the nitty-gritty work that comes from the actual implementation of a vision. Searching for such environments is integral to career development and personal development alike, so be bold in your career choices. For how can go where we’ve never been, if we do what we’ve always done?
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Mohammed joined AlphaSights in 2015 and serves as an Associate in our Dubai office.