How to stay focused on your career big picture with David C. Baker

Today I talked with writer and podcast co host David C. Baker on the essential thoughts for today’s job search. We’ll chat about being flexible with your career, the importance of clear communication to cut through the noise, and how to be disciplined in focusing on the big picture.

Photo of David C. Baker

An author, advisor, and podcast co-host who speaks about numerous topics related to entrepreneurship and the business of expertise.

David C. Baker 0:00
Hi,

Maren Kate 0:00

thank you so much for doing this. It means so much. And I'm also like a big fan. I was just listening to your audio book before this and then I found out you had a podcast. I just subscribed.

David C. Baker 0:12

Oh, good. Yeah, it's a it's the biggest podcast in the space. It's people in the space listen to a much bigger podcast, but in terms of one's directed at the space, it's the biggest one. So we have a lot of fun doing it.

Maren Kate 0:25

Yeah, I bet I really I really like when people podcast on something, you know, kind of specific to an industry or like a sub genre, especially with just all the podcasts out there. Right? Yeah, so Okay, great. So my goal with this is, like I said, in the email, I'm writing a book specifically focused on helping professionals think through how to how to stand out and get hired in any kind of economy, but specifically this type. This has been geared more towards remote work, but in reality it the framework works with kind of any type of knowledge work. And what I wanted to talk to you about is specifically two chapters I'm kind of struggling with and you went over like in detail in the business of expertise, but it was focused on like the expert entrepreneurs, is helping people understand their why. And then secondly, helping people understand I guess like, like their unique genius is not the right word. But But what they're really good at what I found. So I've, I've had a few businesses since I was in college, and most of them are connecting kind of like talent and companies. And recently I've shifted to focus on the actual like helping the professionals. I was always selling to companies in the past and then as I've gone through thousands of interviews, myself I realized that especially I would say millennials and maybe younger we we change jobs so much we we've it's there's a lack of kind of focus and understanding actually what you're really good at. And and I'm you see it now where when people are applying for a role or selves in the resume or LinkedIn, it's kind of all over the place. And I don't know if that's a generational thing, but it only seems to be expanding as as the generations get younger people are doing a lot more but they're lacking that sense of, Hey, this is what I'm actually really good at. Okay, yeah. So what I'm so yeah, if you don't mind, I'll just I'll just ask you a few questions. And then just like riff, I'm just super curious, in thinking how maybe I could apply some of what you've already outlined with expert entrepreneurs how this could be applied to knowledge workers.

David C. Baker 3:00

Okay, sure, I'll take a stab at it.

Maren Kate 3:02

Awesome. Cool. So I guess my first question is just like everything you put together in your book and the work you've done. How like if you, you're talking to someone who is a knowledge worker, so they're a professional and they're looking for their next thing? How would you apply the tactics of expert entrepreneurs to to professional who's actually going to go work for someone else? Mm hmm.

David C. Baker 3:34

Yeah. So my book is addressed to people for which two things are true. One is they're in the business of selling expertise. And second, they are doing it in an entrepreneurial setting. So in the question that you posed, one of those would be true, they're selling expertise, but they're doing it for somebody else who is presumably the entrepreneur. So One thing that doesn't change, though, is that there's still risk involved in this, but the risk is different. The risk is whether or not you get the job, rather than whether or not the company thrives or not. So I think those principles are very similar in the sense that you, your positioning as a person, so the reason they would hire you, I think the personal aspects are the things that if if you don't have them, then they get in the way. But there's no way that just being friendly enough or personable enough, or a good enough listener is going to get you hired, it's just you have to reach those minimum levels. The real reason for hiring you is something else. And that's how you would define your particular expertise. And so those principles are the same in the sense that there needs to be a frame of reference for what it is that you're claiming as an expert, so you can't be the only person claiming to do this, they have to have some frame of reference that explains how this person fits into a company like this and so on. But, so there you can't be the only person. But you can't be so interchangeable that you have no, no power or leverage. And I don't just mean because when I say that people will immediately think about money, how much money they're going to make. And that's clearly a part of it. But I think it's much bigger than that. It's your work life balance. It's the kinds of projects that you'll get to you might be answering to at the firm, there are at least a half a dozen really important elements that you could impact based on having enough leverage. So when you think about this, how this equation works you if you're going to be a good, employ somebody that's highly valued, there are going to be times when you are pushing back and disagreeing with a consensus. So at that point, what is it? That's going to give them the courage to work with you to stick with you rather than just either dismissing you or putting a boundary around you so that you're just not a pest anymore? What? What is it about your expertise that will make it worth it, to keep working with you when you're pushing back because leaders lead they don't just simply do what they're told they lead they question and so on. And that expertise needs to be defined So specifically, that it would be hard for an employer to find a replacement for you. It's not that they could just go and have a search for two weeks. No, it might take them four months to find somebody who's as good as you who isn't as difficult to work with. So it is about expertise, but it's in a different context, I guess.

Maren Kate 6:56

Yeah. And I guess that's that's one of the interesting things. I think specifically kind of my audience with the book is a lot of them are working in, in technology in some way, shape or form. You know, it doesn't need to mean they're engineers, but a lot of the companies that are that are, you know, accelerating this shift to remote work are on the, you know, more of the technology side of things versus like a flower shop because obviously, there's only so much you can do. And what I'm and this is something I've struggled with myself as like an entrepreneur for most of my life, but I never, it's like, if you have a more circuitous path, versus you went to school for finance, you got your CPA, you know, you're an accountant, and that's like a relatively specific box. You might need to pick the industry, but you kind of know like, that's your profession. I feel like especially in today's world, I'm known people my age and younger. We are We're not as much like we don't think of ourselves as like I'm in sales as much because sometimes the route to get there is more Securitas, how do you like, what's a framework for even just figuring out what you could like what could be your expertise? Or is there?

David C. Baker 8:19

I don't. There are some clues and hints, but it's largely something I keep thinking of something that Steve Jobs said I don't remember the exact quote, but it was something like nobody can connect the dots moving forward, but they can connect the dots looking back. And when you look at career, you can't you could not have anticipated some of these changes. Totally. You have to be a very curious person all along. always hungry for learning. You have to be open to changes in your career and I honestly don't think that what you do matters all that much after the first two jobs. So, okay, your education matters a lot for that first job. And then the nature of that first job matters a lot for the second, but after that, I'm not sure it really matters. People don't ask you that, you know, at first they quit asking you where you went to school, and then they quit asking you if you went to school, it just doesn't matter at that point. But there is some there is an outside resource you can use that helps in this case, because we are, as I talked about in the book, it's very difficult to read your own label from inside the jar and so totally, you don't know what you're good at. And there's this exercise I described in the book about your unique ability which I learned from the Strategic Coach people up in Toronto, where you send the question to 40 people, this is a mix of friends, colleagues, family members. And you ask them in one sentence or so to describe what your unique ability is, but none of them confer with each other. And then you get these things back and you start to see that pattern. And, and then it's not a specific job, it's just a particular strength that you have. And then then you just sit down and write down the 20 career options that you'd be really good at. I've done that for myself, and I don't know that I'll ever get to any of them on the list. But there are certain things that are that would be really natural strengths for me and, and just think about what those are and then kind of be open to them. If you're living a full life, you're only you're only basically getting through 10% of what you could do. There's 90% of your hopes and desires that you'll just never get to and that's fine.

Maren Kate 10:55

Okay, I love that. That's awesome. I'm actually I'm the unique ability thing. I'm glad on doing that myself and then actually interviewing someone from Strategic Coach, as I was looking at the different. The other framework I was looking is the the Japanese term QA guy. I don't know if I'm pronouncing it right, and how it overlaps. It's like these four concentric circles and pretty much breaks down to like, what problems The world needs solved, which could be your market, profit, how you make money, your passion, and then your profession. So I've just been like looking through these different ones. But I like that I'm going to test that out myself. And something you said, sticks with me in terms of the idea that it's almost like maybe in the last 50 years, you had a profession and it's like, I'm an accountant or I'm an engineer, but now it's more around like what are your strengths? Because when someone's hiring, they're usually hiring to like solve a specific problem. So those straights could, they could solve different problems that Different companies,

David C. Baker 12:01

right? You have a strength. And you apply that in different ways at different jobs and, and you acquire new strengths along the way or their strengthen with training or experience. But if you are great at organization, there are 20 things you could do. You just don't want to be in a place where you're not using your primary strength.

Maren Kate 12:21

Yeah, absolutely. Um, I don't know if there's an answer for this. But when you think in terms of strengths, is there is there usually, I don't know around like a number, like do you usually have like one or two core strengths? And then maybe like for medium and then six loose, or have you seen any patterns?

David C. Baker 12:43

I haven't, there's probably a scientific answer to that. I'm not sure what that answer is. Yeah.

Maren Kate 12:49

Okay. So you've obviously interacted with a bunch of people over your career and I'm sure hired a bunch of people to what is some of the biggest mistakes you see candidates Making, whether you're hiring them or just watching, you know, other firms you're working with,

David C. Baker 13:07

well, I don't know if I can rank the mistakes, but one big one is not following their instincts and paying attention to what they're seeing in those early days. So they're so desperate for a job or whatever the pressure is that they ignore the, the signs, the little signs of what it's gonna be like to work there. And those things just slap him in the face afterwards, once they've joined up there. That's one another is not having a clear enough standard for the right fit for them. And I don't mean just industry, I mean, the kind of manager they need the size of firm, how, what the work life balance, whatever that stuff is. Yeah. And they and you see that in So if you're interviewing somebody, and you start asking them a question, and one of the questions is, where else are you applying? And they're not going to answer specifically, obviously, but and you don't expect them to, but you just say, tell me about the other places that you're thinking about working at and you want to see some uniformity in the answer. Otherwise, they're just desperate or don't know what they're looking for. Yeah, that'd be another mistake. I think. Another one is not recognizing that they are in such a unique position during those first couple of months at the new job, that they will never be in their lives again. And that's to see things with a fresh perspective. The problem is that they don't have the they haven't earned the equity to share those perspectives yet with the people who matter. So the key is to record all of those perspectives in a private little journal or something. And then once they built the relationships that allow for that, can Under then to share some of those things to make it a better company later. That's why that's

Maren Kate 15:04

a great point. That's a great point because I've totally I've hired people and like, you know, they've come in and like within a week they're like you're doing everything wrong. And even though they may be completely correct, it doesn't feel good. You're like, whoa, whoa, and I've probably done that myself when working for someone else. That's super interesting. I also I love your comment on like, the desperate for a job and not understanding what's right. I that's like, one of the reasons I'm writing this now is you know, we went from a booming like a job seekers economy, like if you were if you had a pulse in San Francisco, you could get a job, too. Now people are like, wow, you know, this is it's right sizing, in some ways, and people need to there's a lot more competition. And with any uncertainty, you know, everybody's kind of scared. And what I don't want people to do is exactly what you're saying. Kind of just that that spray and pray. And then so it's like one of the first chapters I totally like took a page from the way you wrote your book I like that foundational section. So like the foundation before actually getting into the nitty gritty instead of being like this is how to get a job it's like actually thinking what do you want so I broke it into personal core values, which I suggest people do you know, not everyone will but like super high level like what are four or five and then career drivers. In the career drivers I, I broke out was money, lifestyle, growth opportunities, environment and then culture. And in my thought is if you can actually take the time and understand what's driving you, no matter how junior or senior you are in your career, it's going to make everything a lot easier in your your job search process and your instead of maybe applying To 50 or 100 places, you're gonna be able to zoom in on like 10 and get really deep. Mm hmm.

David C. Baker 17:06

Right. Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

Maren Kate 17:08

Okay, good. I just that's a great get chat. Okay, well, another question. Uh, so referrals and people's network is like such a such an over indexed way of getting connected with opportunities and work. And, obviously, you know, you've built a very large one over your career. If you were, if you were advising someone who maybe didn't have that strong of a network, um, or like kind of does deep referrals How would you go about building that? Like, if you were looking at building that, you know, more or less from scratch? Like what are what have you seen work? What do you see not?

David C. Baker 17:48

Mm hmm. Ah, well, as much as I hate LinkedIn, you really can't skip LinkedIn in terms of building connections there. So irritating about that is people who build connections simply when they are looking for work. It's so disingenuous. So the idea is you do that all the time as a getting people to follow you. But I really this isn't a quick easy answer. But no, I really think the solution is to articulate what you think about something and it, it could be issues in your personal life or maybe sports or, or maybe it's about work or whatever, but you Why would somebody fall unless you're an influencer already, which is not likely in this case? Why would somebody follow what you have to think or say, it's not because of what you retreat or the pictures you take of your dinner, it's got to be something that that provides some unique insight in do something that fits your your personality. If you don't Want to write long form articles then write a write a meme everyday or something. I mean, just just when I think about some of the most important things you can do when you're raising kids, I think, teaching them to read and write. But then having them articulate viewpoints on whatever interests them is the most important thing I would do. They just won't get smart until they force themselves to go through that process of articulation. So if you want to build, if you think about this, you're building a reputation that you are going to call on, at many really key points of your career. Every time you change jobs, every time you're looking for a promotion. When you're looking for investment, and whatever that reputation you're building, it needs to have a very long view towards the end. And it cannot happen unless you articulate unique points of view that interest people So whatever it is that you can address, that's what you should be doing. Right I, I write because I would go nuts if I didn't write and, and in my business, it really helps me because a lot of people follow it. But I would do it even if they didn't. And that's the perspective I think we've got to have.

Maren Kate 20:17

It's like, it's the, the word that comes to me is the idea of like, taking a stance. And, and we're in a, you know, we're in a, everything's so connected, that like people can just kind of, you know, there's so much content, there's so much whatever, but but the stuff that seems to engage in interest is is exactly what you're saying. People that can articulate something unique, whether it's, you know, somebody else might not agree with that, like some of the people that are the most, you know, the most influential are also the most controversial, but if it is an authentic opinion of theirs. That's really, that's really interesting. That's awesome. Um, what are the silver linings or opportunities You see for for professionals or even experts like in the current, you know, COVID-19 world we're in, what are some of the positives that may come in the next, you know, either here may come in the next 12 to 18 months that people are just not seeing Hmm.

David C. Baker 21:22

And you're asking that question about individual people or about businesses,

Maren Kate 21:27

you know, both actually because, yeah, whatever pops to your mind, either works.

David C. Baker 21:35

People have so much less tolerance for fluff and nonsense nowadays. And so the opportunity to stand out as an effective communicator or leader, oh my goodness, there's so much more opportunity for that. There's way more opportunity for courage. If you look at the typical Market presidents are advertising that firms during COVID-19 are doing it is so pathetic. Yes, they're all saying the same thing. We're all in this together, which is bullshit. We don't care about anything more than your safety, which is also bullshit. There. Yeah. So, there's opportunity. There's this big leveling that occurred and it's almost like, you know, you just everybody got bonked on the head. Now everybody's on the ground who's gonna stand up and and stand out from everybody else? And I think so whether that's an employee or a firm, I think the opportunities are fantastic. This is a big thinning of the herd. I like that's not an empathetic thing to say. And I don't mean that. I know there's a lot of pain associated with this, but there's also a lot of opportunity, we suddenly find out what people care about. The signal to noise ratio is complete. any different. And there when you look back when you talk to people who've been very successful, and you ask them, when did you start their firm? If you did that, if you ask people six months ago, who are very successful, when did you start your firm? Or when did you get this job? When did you make this transition? A lot of them would have told you it was 2008 and nine, yep. Or if they were in New Orleans or something, it would have been 2005. Or it would have been 2001 after the tech disaster and 911. Yeah. So we don't really know who those people are. But there are a lot of amazing leaders that are going to rise from this.

Maren Kate 23:41

Yeah, that's, that's awesome. I love that that's, I, I try to think the same way. The other thing is, it's like, fear is so crippling and you can be fearful at any stage in your career at any socio economic you know, standard But the people that are actually like, you know, Excuse My French, like, fuck it like I'm just gonna, I'm gonna keep I'm gonna keep trucking because, you know, it's like people I have a sense that people are either going to crawl in a hole or they're just going to exactly what you said stand up and be like, Alright, I'm doing this I'm leveling up, I'm learning. I'm going to future proof my career and, and even from a personal standpoint, like I've realized I'm like, I recently closed out my apartment in Manhattan. And I'm gonna actually go to Austin, which I was already planning, but like, I was like, I have spent so much money just to be in this place. And I realized that I haven't put money in savings and it just this bonked me on the head and I was thinking I was like, it was like you had been an idiot. Like, why would you but like my grandma, who lived through the Great Depression was super smart about that. And it's like, it's almost like we all didn't get fat and happy obviously most people are you know, no But like, we got a little bit lazy and I feel like this is this is kind of like a divining rod. Like it's really making us think what's important, like communities, important families, important, real connections, but also just basics like you don't need that. You don't need to put that on credit. Like instead save and you don't need 10 pairs of shoes will be fine with five.

David C. Baker 25:23

Yeah, exactly. And that's true for businesses as well as people.

Maren Kate 25:26

Totally. Oh, absolutely. So I guess my last question is skill sets for for people to kind of future proof their career like like thinking through the next 20 years. One of the things we've both said multiple times in this talking is the importance of communication, like and especially as as things go more digital, written communication is is phenomenally important. Right? And then and then there's also like a level of technological savvy, which people Have to really have to if it's not already innate they need to pick that up quickly. What are what are either the skill sets or the maybe even personality traits to cultivate to, to kind of future proof the next 20 years so you don't get made redundant

David C. Baker 26:18

I think teaching yourself how to learn so what you stop learning formally at some point and and yet what keeps most great leaders and interesting people alive is this constant desire to keep learning how do they teach themselves so that learning that skills very important, a lot of it comes down to paying attention to what you listen to what you read every day, all of that? That's one. I think discipline is so critical. I I see so many brilliant people who who are who just have wasted lives largely because they're undisciplined and I would all take somebody with like this, I'd rather have somebody who has an IQ of 90 and is really disciplined than somebody with a high IQ who's not disciplined. Discipline is like just understanding that every day you cannot simply do what's on your to do list, you have to shape your to do list you have to decide, alright, for three of these days, I'm going to do what's expected of me but but screw it for the other two days. I'm going to do what the world needs from me. I'm going to create some piece of like, like you're doing writing a book or I'm going to learn something or I'm going to read something or whatever it is. You've got to got to be disciplined and focused on the, the big picture. And to many people, they get to there. But here's another way to look at this if you if you get to the end of your life, or and you're still thinking, right, but you're, you look back over it and you say, Oh shoot, I was just not I was not as nearly as effective as I could be that I could have been. And then you ask yourself, okay, why is it because you didn't have enough opportunity? That is just never the case. Never. Totally, totally. It's because you didn't focus. It's because you were screwing around with too many things and, and really brilliant. Effective People say no to almost everything. And, and they get a lot done in a few areas. And that's what really advances them further. So that that's how I would answer that.

Maren Kate 28:49

I love that. That's that makes me think of that, uh, that Derek Silver's forward in your book? I love rice so much. Yeah. You're so right about discipline, even when I look at my Self and sometimes, you know, figuring out like, when I've thrived when I've not, it's when I lose focus and go too broad, versus really saying no to most things. Okay, great. So I guess yeah, that's that's this has been incredibly helpful. David, thank you so much for taking the time. Yeah. I'm glad to do it really. It really does seem like yeah, I feel like there's another book out there around like just just how everyone has to become an expert. Right? Like, especially as we move away from more manual work automation robotics in the next 20 years, if people don't, don't hone a niche and and stand up and have their expertise, even if they're always working for someone else. It just seems like that's kind of the way the world's going.

David C. Baker 29:49

Yeah, the world's been Google eyes. Right? There's there is no unspecified expert anymore. You're an expert in something you go to Google, your son or you're looking for something very Specific how to build a gravel road with this model of your tractor. And there's 20 schools that have already done a video on it for free. And it's instantly available. It's like that Google doesn't doesn't deliver any searches to anybody who's not an expert in something. They just don't.

Maren Kate 30:15

Yeah, yeah, it's true. My personal theory is like, I feel like in the next 20 or 30 years, maybe like the last 20 years, you'd say I work at HubSpot or whatever, I think that it's going to be and especially as younger generations, you know, come into the workforce, it's going to be like instead of I work for it'll be more I work with. So it'll be like maybe you work with HubSpot, but you're also you know, maybe you're doing an E book or a project and you're also selling something on Etsy or or selling a specific expertise. It just, it seems like that might be a one of the one of the futures of work, which is exciting, but it also really means you have to get super disciplined and figure out what you're good at and the Then continue honing that.

David C. Baker 31:01

Sure. Yeah, that makes sense to me. Well, let me know when your book comes out. Well,

Maren Kate 31:06

I will. I will. Thank you so much, David. Enjoy the rest your day. Inde on air is brought to you by indie.co the first remote focused professional network and sponsored by going remote, the ultimate step by step guide to finding in landing a meaningful remote job in today's environment. Preorder today, you'll get exclusive bonuses and access, just check out going remote book.com that's going remote book.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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