The Three Roles At Your Firm That Stem From Failed Careers

I've been wanting to write about this for a long time, after experimenting with the concept and bouncing it off a few people. I feel like there'll be lots more to learn, for me, but I'm just going to quit waiting and start a discussion.

The concept is embarrassingly simple, but there's quite a bit to explore:

There are three roles that emerge from a "failed" career.

That failure is a bit of an overstatement, but it emphasizes the point. The three roles I'm talking about are:

  • Sales
  • Account Management
  • Project Management

What am I saying? Several things:

  1. The vast majority of expert laborers in this field are college graduates.
  2. There are no college degrees in these three areas.
  3. Most of the existing heroes in these three areas started as skill players before moving to role players.

Our account, project management, and sales teams are populated by former coders, writers, designers, UXers, and many more. Including attorneys and educators.

But something happened mid-career. Either their technical skills weren't as expected or someone noticed how great they were at "wrapping" their skills in something else or there was some accident of history that put a dogleg in a career path.

These are very unique people and their unconventional path should have us thinking and acting a little differently. I'm going to get right to those suggestions.

  1. Look for team members who are more exceptional in sales, account management or project management than their chosen career.
  2. Make sure that those three career paths are not a compromise in your organizational system, but are rather valued and well-compensated. Anyone who makes the jump should feel like it's lateral or higher.
  3. Provide essential training in all three areas to foster the skill development that will make up for the lack of formal education.

I'll often hear this question: "should I hire someone in sales (or project management or account management) who has sales skills in another field or technical skills in this one?" Fortunately for us, that's a false dilemma. Some of the most effective people in sales started as designers, for example. They speak the language and understand what's going on.

Nobody goes off to school majoring in any of these three roles, but we have spectacular players in all three. That happens when adaptable people combine skill and aptitude to create a valued hybrid that forms the foundation of some great firms.

These practitioners love this field and have already lived through a resilient transition based on their own self-awareness and some boss who wasn't deterred by some weakness in a team member.

These three roles, combined, account for 34.5% of the labor in the typical marketing firm. How ironic that none of them grew up dreaming of that particular role...or trained for it as a career.

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