Choosing the Employer That Will Skyrocket Your Career

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COO of NerdWallet
5 min read
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I head daily operations at NerdWallet, an Internet company that provides personal finance tools and advice. Before that, I built the business analytics and operations department for LinkedIn, the world’s premier career social network.

Opportunities in tech have rocketed my career, but I’ll tell you a little secret: I’ve never written a line of code, and I don’t have a degree in computer science. My first job out of school wasn’t a scene out of the movie The Social Network but more a trade plucked from the pages of Death of a Salesman: I sold life insurance policies for a living.

The trajectory of my career was changed in 1998 when my mentor and I thought there’s got to be a better way to do this. More customers were now online, so we helped develop a website that aimed to be fully transparent with life insurance quotes and would not require the consumer to go through an agent to find out the cost. ReliaQuote was born.  

Related: How to Jump From Startup to Startup Without Hurting Your Career

This has been the double helix of my career: my acumen with finance and my love of new technology. These interests carried me through the rough waters of the dotcom implosion in 2001 and helped me land the job at LinkedIn in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession.

What I tell college students and fresh graduates is this: Attach your career to a rocket. Anticipate industry moves and catch the next big wave. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But here are steps to best ensure the next big thing doesn’t blast off without you.

Pick the right industry. Whatever industry you step foot in after graduation will likely define your career for the next decade or two, so choose wisely. Look for industries with the most long-term growth potential. Technology is an obvious choice, as is health care.

But the fastest growing industry in the past year is one of the oldest. Mining-related fields grew 21 percent last year as new technology has caused a sustained boom in domestic production, according to a survey of privately held businesses by Sageworks.

The second fastest growing? Beverage-related manufacturing grew 20 percent, fed by a natural beverage boom of drinks such as coconut water, raw juice and even maple water.

Related: Clues to Find the Perfect Path for Your Personality

But beware of cyclical trends. Some industries might be booming now, gone tomorrow. For example, six of the top 10 fastest growing industries in the past year are tied to real estate and home construction but that’s related to an improving economy and pent-up demand from the financial crisis. It won’t last.

Many industries are poised for disruption. For example, the home delivery and mining booms are feeding the growth of freight trucking. If you don’t have a college degree, a commercial driver’s license creates much greater opportunities than, say, working at McDonalds. But a decade from now, the expected revolution in driverless vehicles could cause a career behind the wheel to hit the skids.

Pick the right company.  I know what you’re going to say -- in this economy, for fresh graduates, beggars can’t be choosers. And a high-performing student is always going to have more options to choose from. Still, your choice of company will help steer your career in the right direction. The Googles and Facebooks of the world still need marketing, finance and public-relations hires.

Related: 17 Startups You Should Bet Your Career On

If you have a talent for sales, which is the better choice: Working at a car dealership or for a San Francisco startup? If you’re an accountant, better to tie yourself to a firm that specializes in health-care clients than the flat growth of the tax preparation industry. Newspapers may be on the wane, but there are great opportunities for journalists at new media companies, or the $44 billion content marketing industry.

No matter your skillset, opportunities to ride the next wave abound. And you don’t have to be a computer whiz, health-care worker or petroleum engineer to catch it -- joining companies that are surfing those waves will suffice.

Follow the moneymen. Want a nifty way to search for growing industries and companies in your locale? Cruise the pages of local and national venture capital funds to see where they are putting their money.

Granted, most investor bets don’t pay off, but the fact that they are getting funding suggests the company is on to something. And it always pays to scour websites like LinkedIn and Indeed to see what companies and industries are hiring the most and where they are hiring.

Connect with alumni of companies and industries of interest and schedule a 15-minute informational interview. Ask people on the ground what trends they are seeing and what advice they would offer. This can be invaluable in shaping your job search. And who knows? They just might offer you a chance to step on their rocketing company and go for a ride. 

Related: 7 Reasons to Ditch the Corporate World for a Career at a Startup

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