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What Most People Get Wrong: Career Development
Our Interview with Mollie Mueller, Founder and CEO of Crew
Welcome to the latest edition of “What Most People Get Wrong”. We will be interviewing experts in their field with the goal of answering a few core questions: What do most people get wrong about your area of expertise? Why?
Our guest on What Most People Get Wrong is Mollie Mueller, Founder and CEO of Crew. Crew is the career design platform that helps users manage their career development, nurture strong connections with colleagues and mentors, and participate in coaching workshops and programs. Companies like American Express, IDEO, Ernst and Young, and Lendable now offer scaled career support fit for a new era of work. With so many people going through career transitions, we connected with Mollie to ask a seemingly simple question: what do most people get wrong about career development?
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been fascinated by employee psychology and career strategy since taking my first org psych class in college. I wrote my senior thesis on employee engagement, and this interest led me to work at the campus career center as a student career coach. I loved helping my peers think about their careers, but I also saw first-hand how campus career centers get the basics right (resume reviews and interview prep), but fail to help students with the big stuff, like identifying your strengths and interests, identifying specific goals, and crafting your story. Career centers just don’t have the scale and technology to keep up with today’s pace of change. This really stuck with me.
After starting my career as an accountant at EY and getting an MBA from London Business School, I made a hard pivot into the world of innovation. I joined IDEO, the innovation consultancy known for pioneering the design thinking process. There I became a huge believer in design thinking not only as a process for helping companies solve complex problems but also for bringing creativity and joy to people’s work.
Throughout my career, I continued to coach friends and colleagues on their careers ad-hoc. When the pandemic hit, all of a sudden everyone I knew was questioning some aspect of their career, and no one knew where to turn for unbiased guidance in navigating this new world of work. I got really curious about this problem: how are there so many people who need help figuring out their careers, and a no ‘go-to’ brand or solution? This kicked off a big research endeavor where I studied the recent massive changes to the shape of careers. I realized just how dramatically careers have changed, and saw a huge gap in the market for modern, human-centered career support.
What do most people get wrong about career development?
The number one mistake I see, and it’s fairly ubiquitous, is people thinking they can rely on other people (their employer, their manager) to manage their careers.
They assume that once they’ve landed the job their company or their manager will show them a clean and clear path that they can just follow on autopilot.
Wouldn’t that be nice!? Unfortunately, this just never happens. Instead, companies are going through rapid change (and lately a lot of upheaval) which makes it very hard for them to know their own future, let alone that of every employee. Managers are mostly well-intentioned but are frequently under-trained when it comes to career development conversations, and lack the time and skill to be their employees’ career coach.
Annual performance reviews are a great example. These moments are ripe for employees to take ownership. A best practice here would be collecting feedback on your strengths and accomplishments throughout the year, crafting a narrative around your growth, and building relationships with the people who can help you to achieve your goals. People who do this will see significantly better results in their annual reviews. Instead, most people leave this process to their manager to control. Given that managers are overworked and under-trained when it comes to career development, they often fail to speak up on their employees’ behalf, leading to employees missing out on that promotion or raise, and then feeling stuck.
Why do most people get that wrong?
A few reasons:
People still assume that careers look like the simple ladders of the past. We still want to believe that if we just keep our heads down and work hard, we’ll climb up a steady staircase and reach the top. We may have seen our parents achieve success in this way, or mentors encouraged this behavior. Either way, the reality is that careers today are squiggly messes. We change jobs more frequently, we work in different ways (remote, gig work, side hustles), and we have to keep up-leveling as our skills get outdated more quickly. All of this means we need a more active approach to career management.
Our current model of career support is broken. Today we attend back-to-back years of full-time education in our teens and early twenties, then graduate into the working world with zero continued support in managing our careers or developing our skills. We’ve never been re-educated in the right way to manage a career, and we lack the tools and guidance to do this well.
We’ve become used to economic growth and job certainty, and must now re-set expectations that jobs can be cut at any time, and the only way to stay highly employable is to actively manage our skill development, personal brand, and professional relationships.
How does career development change over the next 5-10 years?
There is even more disruption coming to careers ahead as the future of work continues to shift.
We’re seeing AI on the cusp of impacting up to 300 million jobs. Workers will need to upskill and re-skill more quickly than ever before. Companies, already fiercely competing in the war for talent, will now need to both attract new talent and upskill existing workforces.
We’re also seeing demographic changes as Gen Z enters the workforce. This generation cares more about meaning and holds a higher bar for well-being at work. They’ve also come of age during what the Surgeon General has termed a “loneliness epidemic” and seek belonging from their organizations.
Amidst this backdrop, employers who can be both agile and employee-centric will have a significant edge in the accelerating war for talent, and employees who seize control of their own career journeys will be rewarded.
What is needed to make that vision a reality?
The paradigm shift in careers requires an entirely new approach to career management. A system that centers on lifelong support for individuals (helping them own their careers), while also enabling companies to offer scalable, employee-centric career development.
At Crew, we think of this as a career passport, but really we all need a system of record for your career that stays with you from high school to retirement. This equips individuals with the tools and guidance they need to navigate increasingly squiggly careers and helps employers hire, retain, and match talent to the right opportunities with better data.
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