Grow Your Career Like You Grow A Product

Originally written by Erika Warren and Elena Verna for Reforge.

We work tirelessly on growth models for our companies, focusing on creating sustainable, predictable, and defensible tactics to ensure lasting success. Yet when it comes to our own careers, we let luck and intuition guide our decision-making process. If we are evaluating ourselves as a product or business, we are either terrible or absent, CEOs who hold our own career decision-making process to a lower standard. Take these examples:

Optimizing for short-term returns while not thinking about the long-term potential

  • Product: Would you blindly hike your product prices 40% today to hit ARR targets without a thought about the impact on the long-term growth? Likely not.
  • Career: Would you swiftly accept a new job offer with 40% more pay today, without considering your ability to progress and succeed long-term in the company? Likely yes.

Expecting everything to work out and not taking charge

  • Product: If your product growth slows, do you play a waiting game expecting customers to just start discovering you? Or do you start meticulously testing new channels & tactics? Hopefully the latter.
  • Career: If you feel that you are in a role with slowing growth, do you just wait for the recruiters to reach out to you? Or do you start doing outbound networking and proactively put yourself out there? Likely the former.

Letting the world craft your narrative

  • Product: Would you build a a go-to-market strategy that lacks differentiated positioning and focused target segments? Likely not.
  • Career: If you do not have a clear and concise statement to articulate your strengths, superpowers, and the environment needed for your success, do you expect to land a job of your dreams? Likely yes.

Building A Growth Engine For Your Career

In the business setting, we obsess about being in control. What if we treat our careers with the same obsession, and put into practice many of the same principles we use to build successful companies? We challenge you to think about your career as a ‘product,’ focusing on creating a sustainable, predictable, and fulfilling growth system for you.

In the Growth Series, we lay out the core components of creating a growth system. There are three major layers:

  1. Growth Product – The three major inputs that drive growth – Retention, Acquisition, and Monetization.
  2. Growth Process – The systematic process you use to evaluate and evolve the inputs.
  3. Growth Team – The people you surround yourself with to execute the process against the inputs into growth.

Growth System.png
When looking at our career as a product, we can apply many of the same principles of this system. Let’s take a look.

Start with Retention & Engagement

Retention Drives Acquisition & Monetization

Retention makes and breaks careers, just like it makes and breaks companies. In “The One Growth Metric that Moves Acquisition, Monetization, and Virality,” Casey Winters and Shaun Clowes state that retention drives product growth in 3 key ways:

1. Retention drives acquisition

For many products, especially those that grow through virality or user-generated content (UGC), retention has a double effect. As you retain more users, those additional users take more of the key actions that accelerate acquisition, either through sharing, inviting, word-of-mouth, or creating content. As more of those new users retain, more are acquired – improving retention sets off a self-reinforcing cycle that drives acquisition.

2. Retention improves monetization

When it comes to monetization, two important things happen with improved retention – you can retain a larger proportion of a cohort, and in doing so, make more money from that cohort within a given period of time, and you can increase the length of time that a cohort retains, increasing LTV.

3. Retention builds an acquisition competitive edge

As you increase retention, monetization, and LTV, you can pay more to acquire a customer. In doing so, you can push competitors out of acquisition channels, open up new channels that were previously too expensive, and grow faster.

So how does this translate to your career? Retaining at a company while showing progression in your ability – through new skill development, product rotation, or promotion — pays forward to an extent we often underestimate.

Retention and Progression In A Company Drives Acquisition

Achieving progression within the same company is far more valuable in the long term than progressing by switching companies. By getting promoted, you showcase the ability to evolve and grow, positioning yourself as a trustworthy candidate that will get shit done.

As a new hire, there’s good faith trust at first, but you’re unlikely to be thrown the thorniest business problem in your first few months at a new company. As your relationship and track record build, your ability to progress and tackle bigger-impact projects can mirror an exponential function rather than a linear one.

To future employers, this progression is valued at higher rates, which leads to more opportunities and higher conversion of those opportunities. Hiring and onboarding is expensive for employers. It can be a red flag to recruiters and hiring managers if your retention at most workplaces is below industry average. Someone who’s job hopping as a way up the career ladder is a riskier investment for companies.

Over the long term, a referral is a powerful acquisition channel for new opportunities. When you have high retention, your word of mouth coefficient increases and expands outside of your own company.

Career Retention Drives Monetization

Showcasing progression not only increases your ability to unlock far more and greater opportunities (full time, advising, board seats, etc.). You will also be able to demand higher compensation due to the increased probability of creating impact given your track record.

The best monetization models focus on usage or outcomes. Apply that lens when thinking about your career. Your ability to get more reps on the thing that you’re best at will increase your ability to monetize your skills as you career grows.

Career Retention Drives A Competitive Edge

As we explain further in the piece, at the center of career acquisition and monetization is the acquisition of unique knowledge. That unique knowledge, when distributed and applied well, helps you stand out in a noisy environment, which leads to more opportunities and more leverage.

But to gain unique knowledge, you need to go deep and get reps on new and complicated problems. It’s hard to impossible to get depth and reps when you are switching companies every 1 to 2 years. You spend most of your time building context and getting up to speed.

Don’t be a leaky bucket product. Although there’s nothing like the rush of endorphins when you sign a new job contract, your ability to retain and progress in a company should be your #1 focus to ensure your career’s long-term success.

Retention Starts With Being Clear On Your Use Case

In the Retention + Engagement Series, we discuss how the most common source of mistakes is trying to define your retention metrics, activation strategy, and more without being clear about the definition of your product use case. Everything stems from how you define the problem, why, the alternatives, and natural frequency of the product. If you are unclear or there is team misalignment about the use case, then all the downstream work will be misaligned.

You have to know what makes you sparkle in order to put yourself in a position to do so as much as possible. Being clear on your career use case and value proposition will fuel your positioning, brand, and channel strategy when it’s time to look for new opportunities.

To understand retention, you have to understand your core user and use case. This should be easy, since for once, YOU are the customer! You might be surprised by how little you’ve reflected on your career in this way.

Defining Your Career Use Case

Once you’ve successfully researched yourself, create your personal retention canvas. Just like building a high growth company, building a high growth career takes intentionality. There are four main pieces to your Use Case:

Career Use Case Map.png

Problem: What problem are you solving with your career? A mission-driven career will look different than a lifestyle-driven career. A career can serve multiple value props, but being honest with yourself about your primary problem will help you hone your positioning and prioritize new opportunities. Remember, use cases can change, especially for “mature” products, so be sure to check in with yourself. Has your primary use case shifted over your career?

Why: What is your motivation for solving that problem? A recognition-driven career will look different than a financial-driven career vs. other motivations. Being honest with yourself is the biggest challenge, and motivations can change over time. Being clear on that motivation, though, will help you decide how to focus your time to get what you want and need out of a particular point in your career.

Alternatives: Once clear on the problem, think about what else you could do to solve that problem. Just like in our product use case maps, we are likely to think very narrowly about alternatives. Often, alternatives include inertia, or something very different like advising, speaking engagements, different industries or volunteering.

Core Usage Metric: Don’t be a zombie user. Going through the motions might extend your tenure, but if you’re not using your talents in a way that also delivers value to you then you won’t do your best work. Career usage retention metrics are extremely localized; they’re what make us all unique. Discovering and optimizing your time for your core usage metric will lead to strong retention, and will also be the foundation for your growth loop.

While core usage metric is about what action you take to do you best work, there is another metric that you get from the company (or alternatives) that tells you that your problem statement is being addressed.

“Early in my career, outside recognition was really important to me. When I was able to tell people where I worked and bring free food or whiskey to parties, it was a brag factor that reinforced my career choices. As I gained experience and skill, it became less about being in that environment and more about proving to myself I could build and replicate success in other situations and for other causes. I began looking for metrics that provided me with feedback that my core usage metric (weekly customer insights) drove value to the company or the cause.” – Erika Warren

Build Your Career Acquisition Loop

Successful acquisition motion for your career consists of being clear on your brand and positioning, all while building the acquisition loops that fuel your brand awareness.

Brand and Positioning

Most successful brands have a unique, relatable brand identity, clearly differentiated positioning, and an effective story. Do you have a clear understanding of your professional brand? Do you communicate that brand in a clear and compelling story? It starts with being comfortable and accepting of the person you are and what your superpowers are – things you are fantastic at and love to do. Your positioning and messaging evolve from there.

Most people’s career positioning and narrative aren’t defined by themselves, but instead dictated by others’ interpretation of your LinkedIn profile or resume. You need to take control of the narrative by defining it yourself, and then repeating it in the world. That narrative is not about what roles and companies you worked for. Those are pieces of the story but not the story itself. Your story is about how all the experiences you’ve had to date lead to making you a unique fit for this next opportunity.


The goal of professional brand awareness is to increase your reach and to be included in considerations for more opportunities. Doing so means you will get more inbound interest from recruiters and companies. More opportunities equates to more optionality and leverage.

But you need to “productize” your brand into a self-reinforcing loop in order to grow over time. In the Advanced Growth Strategy and Growth Series programs, we explain the three basic pieces of a loop:

Value Generation: First, value needs to be created. In your career, that tends to happen when you acquire unique knowledge from current and past experiences. You generally create more unique knowledge in the areas of your superpowers and strengths.

Value Distribution: You then need methods to distribute that value — your unique knowledge. Starting a blog is one method, but there are many others, like advising, mentoring, speaking, video, podcasting, participating in community forums, mastermind groups, and more.

Value Receiver: Then there are those that receive the value you created and distributed. This builds credibility, opens new distribution opportunities, creates new career doors, which leads to building and acquiring more unique knowledge (see step 1).

Career Acquisition Loop.png

Your Monetization Strategy Is More Than How Much You Charge

Oftentimes people see monetization and growth as a direct tradeoff. Some think the same is true for careers, that you have to make a choice between how much you earn and how much you learn. But this is false.

A core foundation of the Monetization + Pricing program is that monetization is about a lot more than your price. Instead, it comes down to four pieces:

What: What are you charging for? What is the value that you are monetizing on? It should be more than just your time. You have to know what unique value you’ll be adding to the company – it may be your industry expertise, it may be your specialization in a certain skill or your leadership abilities. This is important, as you will need to ensure that you continuously deliver this value to the company, as opposed to falling into a cycle of just being ‘there.’

How: We default to Full-Time contracts as the primary way to monetize our skills. But there are a slew of contracting, freelancing, advising, consulting, speaking, workshop arrangements that can offer either complete alternatives or important augmentations to full-time roles. Given your what, make sure that you have optimal how to achieve the biggest returns.

When: The best monetization models focus on usage/outcomes, so un-gate your knowledge in a freemium-like model and monetize past the aha! moment with the company. Although it may feel like you are giving all your secret sauce away, know that your worth is not processing that knowledge, but in the ability to operationalize and implement it successfully. In other words, focus on retention and monetization, and don’t be an acquisition-only product.

“For years prior to my time at HubSpot I wrote a blog about my insights towards growth. That blog was how I met Dharmesh Shah (Founder of HubSpot) and Christopher O’Donnell (VP Product at the time). When Mark Roberge from HubSpot came knocking, I first did an interim gig on a consulting basis at a pretty reasonable price to show additional value. By the time it came to negotiating the full-time role, I had displayed my value and unique knowledge in lower friction ways, which ultimately gave me more leverage.” – Brian Balfour, Founder/CEO at Reforge, ex-VP Growth at HubSpot.

Amount: The price you charge for your what will depend on when and how. Negotiating is a great way to access market rates and ensure you get the most for your talents.

Career Monetization Model.png

Put Your Personal Growth Model Into Play

The fundamentals of a growth system apply to all types of products, including the meta exercise of thinking of yourself as one. But when it comes to career development, many talented professionals simply don’t apply a fraction of the rigor to their own growth engine and instead rely on outdated models. We hope that as you think about scaling your career, you’ll notice even more parallels than the ones highlighted here. Once you’ve built your system, put it into play by talking with your manager, asking for specific types of work, targeting your job searches, and expanding channels. And when you do, please tell us about it. We’d love to hear what you learned or unlocked within yourself.

Read the original article on Reforge.

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