Five Things A Billionaire Taught Me About Job Hunting

Life is good if you are Reid Hoffman. The self-made billionaire was a part of the founding team at PayPal. He took his winnings from that expedition and went on to found LinkedIn. Hoffman knows what success is.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve been chumming around with him; that in his jet somewhere over the Pacific on the way to his private island, we bonded. I’d also like to tell you that he gave me a fistful of stock tips and a couple of hundred thousand LinkedIn options. I want you to believe that time spent with Reid turned my life into a dreamscape.

Instead, I have to report that I never met the fellow. I did, however, read his recent book, “The Start-up of You.” The book, which is co-written by Ben Casnocha, is pretty inspiring and motivational. I believe that ‘co-written’ means that Ben got to do the bonding, jet riding and investment advice receiving for me. I think of it as outsourcing.

The Hoffman-Casnocha team does a really good job at delivering the scary truth. The days of stable employment, long term company relationships and fixed professions are over. Your future involves taking a series of jobs that disappear while you have them. The best you can hope for is a temporary reprieve.

10 kajillion faceless people in countries you’ve never heard of are waiting to take your job as soon as you get good at it.

Are you scared yet? In some ways, the book is like going on a camping trip with Uncle Reid while he tells scary stories around the campfire. In this case, it’s the set up for a view of the world where being an entrepreneur is the only choice you have. Old school advice about getting ahead is simply outdated.

As scary as it is, he’s probably right. And, after the scary stuff, he gives some good advice. Here are the things I took away:

Anyone can be an entrepreneur.

Actually, the point is more forceful. You don’t have a choice; your future involves being an entrepreneur. Rather than a fixed destination and a once in a lifetime occupation, you are headed for a series of opportunities. The question is not whether you take them but how well.

It’s always day one.

He stole this from Jeff Bezos. At Amazon, they always say it’s Day 1. That means that Amazon is in a state of perpetual beta; that every day is the beginning of the company; that the trappings of success are the roots of failure. Keep yourself and your work fresh through constant reexamination and redefinition.

A million people can do your job. What makes you so special?

This one comes from a long standing billboard on Silicon Valley’s Highway 101. Hoffman insists that you have to regularly (weekly or monthly) review the value you deliver and make sure that it is better than your competition, seen or unseen.

Beware of success. It breeds arrogance. Arrogance precedes massive failure.

Hoffman knows this terrain well. Not content to sit back and count his billions, he launched LinkedIn with serious personal and financial involvement. Thinking that you know it all because you’ve had a little success is the single biggest predictor of the next fall. Be paranoid about your history and question what you’ve learned.

Take risks when others take refuge.

When the economy goes south, the company folds or the world ends, hunt for the lemons and make lemonade. Anyone can whine and complain about how bad it is. Economic improvement depends on being able to evaluate the circumstances and discover the opportunities.

Weak links are critical.

You’d expect that Hoffman would talk at least a bit about networking. His view is that the weak links, people you don’t know very well, are the most important parts of your network. They are the gateways to things you don’t know about already.

You may have noticed that I gave you six items when I promised five, The final lesson in Hoffman’s book is a time honored approach to building a career: under promise and over deliver. Always try to delight your customers and colleagues. Always.


John Sumser, a member of the Glassdoor Clearview Collection, is the founder and editor-in-chief of HRExaminer, a weekly online magazine about the people and technology of HR. Widely respected as an independent analyst, Sumser has been chronicling and critiquing the HRTechnology industry for eighteen years. During that time, he has consulted with more than 100 HR vendors on matters of strategy and positioning in the market. Prior to his involvement in the HR Technology industry, Sumser was a senior executive in Defense Technology. From large scale software development to naval architecture, he was the leader of tech development teams in a broad variety of settings. His passion is the intersection of people and technology.