Why asking about your future career path in a prospect company is quickly becoming an irrelevant question

I did a job interview today with a potential candidate. After asking a lot of questions about her and what she wants, she asked me the one very valid question that lots of interviewees ask
“What’s my potential career growth in this company?”.

My reflex was to handle it the way I’ve always handled it for the past 5 years. The company is growing, we’re looking to go places, and we need leaders. There will be opportunities within the country and our future expansion countries etc etc.

But just before I started saying those words I paused and instead I told her this story:

Two weeks ago I was at a wedding dinner when I met a friend of mine who’s with a big fund management firm. I asked him how things were and he said that this was a tough year for him. Surprised I said “But I thought the stock market is booming this year”.

He nodded and said that yes they did a 10-20% return but the index went up by 30%. The big reason was because they didn’t invest in tech. The Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba and the likes. Why? Because their investors are more traditional and look at businesses based on fundamental metrics like PE or NTA or stuff like that, and in all these metrics the tech companies look insanely expensive.

He’s absolutely right. A few years ago I invested in Amazon, Netflix and Tencent. I made money on each of them, about 30% return but in hindsight I sold too early. Why did I sell? Because hey I know Tencent is huge and they have a huge moat and lead over any competitor. But heck they were a $100 billion dollar company then and by the usual fundamental metrics of PE they were expensive. How the hell would I have guessed that it could be a $500 billion dollar company today.

My learning from this is that the world has changed. If we keep evaluating opportunities the old way, we get left behind. Whether it’s investment or job opportunities. So why is the question of a future career path getting increasingly irrelevant today?

Because the answer to that question assumes that the organization chart of that company remains the same for the next decade or more.

That all the jobs all the way up to the top will still exist but the truth is that it probably won’t. Companies in almost every traditional industry are being disrupted by tech companies. Every company has to evolve and when they do so will their workforce and their organization chart. Heck with AI looking to replace jobs in the next 10 years, that change is going to be even more drastic.

So the job that we aspire to have in the next 10 years? That may not exist by the time we get there.

What matters then?

Not too long ago there were headlines about how an AI called AlphaGo beat the World Champion for Go. Then even more recently an AI went up against the world’s best Starcraft player and the Starcraft player won. Why?

Well in Go there are X many probabilities you can go for and the computer can see so many steps far ahead of a human player that he’ll never be able compete. In Starcraft, they found that although the AI had better control of its army than the human player armed with a mouse and keyboard, the human player won because of his ability to decide when to take risks. Instinct was why he won.

Perhaps one day AI will be able to replicate that and beat the Starcraft World Champion, but until then we know that the most relevant skills we can learn to be relevant in our workforce isn’t from books or exams. It’s skills like negotiation, instinct, being able to make calculated calls. Heck maybe even customer service, or dealing with people.

The workforce has changed and will continue to change. The world has changed and the longer we rely on old methods to evaluate opportunities, the faster we make ourselves irrelevant.

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