Not long ago I looked at my younger son’s phone while he was playing Pokémon Go and saw a screen filled with Chinese text. For the uninitiated, this means he was downloading the newest game hack. Pokémon Go asks you to hunt down virtual monsters by traveling around with your smartphone, and my sixth-grader had managed to reach the insanely difficult Level 31 while actually going almost nowhere. He felt proud.
In that moment he reminded me of executive search candidates who have used bad career hacks to move up without gaining needed experiences. They may have rock-star resumes that show a string of fast successes, but their achievements often amount to jumping into a series of projects and basically grabbing the baton at the finish line.
We all do things to accelerate our careers, but not all career hacks are good. Here are three guidelines to help you separate the good from the bad as you plan your career path.
1. Good hacks feel hard because they force you to learn. Working with a mentor who helps you confront your weaknesses is a good hack. Moving to a job that challenges you is a good hack. Staying in an easy job because you’re next in line when the boss retires is a bad hack. Bad hacks encourage the mindset of my sixth-grader: “Here’s the bar; how can I slide right under it?”
2. Good hacks take you where you really want to go, while bad hacks just take you someplace that looks good. What my son really wanted was to have fun; he didn’t anticipate that the game might bore him after a shortcut to a much higher level. In business, a job that puts you on a direct path to the C-Suite could be a bad hack if you want to remain hands-on in an area such as science.
3. Some experiences have no hack, and a shortcut through them is probably more of a cheat. Malcolm Gladwell argued it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field. I can’t vouch for that number, but I know that nothing substitutes for the resilience you learn by overcoming obstacles, or the consensus-building skills you develop by getting a “disruptive” new project off the ground, or the strength you gain doing the hard work of figuring things out for yourself.
That’s what I’m trying to teach both my sons about life, and my seventh-grader may be catching on. He decided against using the Pokémon Go hacks, and he also spends more time than his brother on homework. Maybe he simply hasn’t noticed the answers in the back of the math book, but I’m hoping he’s learned a larger lesson: true success means more than just getting to the next level as fast as possible. Sometimes the slower path builds the muscles for a real climb.
By Laura Brown