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Insider Q & A: Jenny Blake says Career Path is an App – Not a Ladder

June 2nd, 2011
Jenny Blake is an author, blogger, life coach and speaker for twenty-somethings. She is currently on a3-month sabbatical from her role as a career development sabattical from her role as a Career Development Program Manager at Google to promote her recently released book: Life after College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want. You can follow her on Twitter at @Jenny_Blake.
Tell me about working in Career Development at Google, who do you work with and what do you do?
Prior to taking my sabbatical, I was creating career development programs, doing internal coaching, and helping managers learn how to have career-related conversations with their employees. The Career Development team started as a way to keep employees engaged beyond their first few years at the company – particularly those just out of school.

I think in the future we’ll see more of this. Career development is not about promotions only; it is about skills and education, taking classes, mentoring, job shadowing, rotation programs. There are a lot of things companies can do beyond promoting people every time people want a new job. The opportunity to get new a title or a new set of responsibilities isn’t always there but the opportunity to grow is.

For individuals: the analogy I use is to treat your career like a smart phone, not a ladder. What new apps can you download to build out your own phone/career in a way that feels satisfying and engaging? It’s about thinking beyond the “I have to be continually moving up the ladder mentality. If you look at the app model, it’s more individual. Just like everyone’s phone is going to be different, your apps can be customized based on where you want your unique career to go. The happier you are in different aspects of your life, the less you are going to look towards your employer for complete fulfillment.


What prompted you to write Life After College?

I started my blog in 2005 after taking a leave of absence from UCLA to work on a start-up, and was feeling a little lost. I am a professional development junkie, and read a ton of books, but felt like there wasn’t one that combined everything I might need to think about to create the life I really wanted after graduation.

Then when I was 25 and at Google, I had a nagging feeling I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to and I felt burned out from trying to chase new achievements. I realized my own career model was basically broken. I wanted to find meaning in my career, do meaningful work, and give back. I wanted to take it up a level and help other people.

What’s the biggest mistake you see employees make inside a company?

One of the biggest mistakes an employee can make is to take a really reactive approach to their career, particuarly if they are unsatisfied. The mentality of, “I’m not happy, so you need to make it better.”

So what to do instead? Assess what’s working and what isn’t before you have a conversation with your manager about ways to improve the situation. It’s like looking at your wardrobe. What isn’t working that I need to get rid of? And what do I love that works especially well for me?

Another way to go about this: make three columns on a piece of paper: love, hate, and indifferent. Break down every aspect of your role and place your responsibilities in one of these three columns.

Remember that most managers want you to succeed, to be engaged, and to be happy. In most cases, your manager can’t help you overnight. As new projects come up, managers will have a better sense of projects to assign to you if you are clear up front about what you are looking for. For job seekers, it’s a question of priorities. For people for whom income is a first priority, you may need to take the first job that comes along. What is your “yes” threshold?  Be able to listen to your gut and don’t make a decision out of fear.

A friend once told me – what’s your oxygen and what’s your chocolate? You need to figure that out for your career. What works, and what doesn’t.

What are success strategies that work?

The people I’ve seen be most successful are people who get clear on the vision first so that in every networking conversation they have has a clear purpose. I know someone at Google who created his own job. He started a side project – a group volunteering initiative – that was his vision…He was clear about what he wanted to do. He built the bridge, and eventually he made it happen. If you are hazy, it is tough. Without a clear vision, it is hard to know where to go next.

This isn’t easy to do, but a good way to begin is to do a freewrite/brainstorm of everything you love to do – passions, interests, etc. From “I want to host the today show” to “I want to teach kindergarten.” Look for the common themes.

What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had known in college about managing your career?

Communicating what’s working and what isn’t is really important. I left my first job without ever telling my boss what wasn’t working. I wish I had given him the chance. I wish I had known that it was okay to have those conversations. The reverse is also true – learn to be open to feedback. Getting constructive feedback was game changing for me over time I learned how to listen and respond to feedback. Those became some of the biggest growth moments in my career.

Are there any questions that I haven’t asked that I should be asking? What’s the question and what’s your answer?

If you want to take action on any of the suggestions above, check out my Life After College Blog for free templates related to many of the topics we talked about.

Actionable advice to move forward (in 150 characters or less)

Treat your career like a smart phone not a ladder: What apps do you want and need to feel happy and successful?


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