Think Hard About The Institution

Think Hard About Which Institution

Think hard about the institution you will join.  What will you learn?  Whom you will interact with?  The institution’s values and behavior will likely rub off.  Do you like and admire the people who work there?  Do you want to be like them?  Will you learn the skills you want to master over your lifetime by associating with this institution?

  • A member of my family works for one of the most prestigious technology firms in the world.  It is a great fit for her.  However, this firm historically had a reputation for aggressiveness.  A few years after she began working there, my whole family noticed this relative was a bit edgier and more intense.  This actually had many positives as well as some negatives.  She was being shaped by this institution.
  • I spent 12 years working for the U.S. Department of State, the federal agency responsible for devising and implementing America’s foreign policy.  Frankly, State completely changed me as a person.  State made me a professional analyst.  After years and years of writing diplomatic cables analyzing the economic and political developments and trend lines in various countries, I became quite dispassionate and analytical about what was going on.  This habit of mind also became my default in thinking about U.S. politics.  I have noticed this dispassionate approach actually gets on the nerves of many Americans and others who, when discussing politics, become quite emotional.  It’s not unlike a surgeon, but dealing with politics–you are simply analyzing what is going on in a dispassionate fashion.  (By the way, this doesn’t mean you don’t care.  It means you are using you mind to think clearly about a situation.)
  • State made me more of a gossip.  Embassies are like small towns.  People constantly gossip about their colleagues (who are also often their key friends as well given the expeditionary nature of Foreign Service life).  Also, diplomatic reporting work entails reporting on the political and even personal gossip taking place in each country.  Some of our best reporting officers relish gossip.  For me, however, I did not like the nasty gossipy edge that I noticed creeping into my character.  After leaving State, this tendency quickly dissipated.
  • I started my true professional life at 24 working for the Charles Schwab Corporation.  Charles Schwab imparted several key values that constantly influence my behavior to this day: treat technology as a competitive advantage; avoid conflicts of interest; align employees compensation with the interests of clients (we worked on salaries, not on commission); keep your fees low when investing; always exceed the customer’s expectations for service.  I am deeply grateful for what I learned from Schwab, particularly about transparency and how to interact with customers.
  • Here is a negative example.  Another member of my family worked for probably the most prestigious accounting/consulting firm in the world.  I spent a lot of time around these folks at lunches, dinners, etc.  I realized I just didn’t really click with these people.  They seemed like mindless fraternity types, bragging about pounding beers and fancy cars.  I chose to pursue Schwab instead, as I could feel that the corporate culture was a much better match for my personality.

So think hard about the institution you want to join.  Ask if you like the people who work at the institution you are considering joining.  If you like these people, you will probably be a good fit.

  • […] want to make a healthy financial return on your time and effort, you need to think strategically.  Which institutions advance the cause?  What careers?  How can you leverage your unique skills and gifts […]

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