Most smart people out of college grow an average of 10% per year. Which means they are roughly twice as effective 7 years after graduating college. That makes sense as most 29 year olds make double what they did their first job out of college. But growing at 10% per year is way too slow if you want to accomplish great things. You should be aiming to grow at a rate of at least 25% per year for your first few years out of school (like all things, your rate of growth (the second derivative of skill) will slow over time).
To grow quickly, you need a job with the following criteria:
- You’re surrounded by people who are super smart
- You have many opportunities to fail
- The company has a history of giving massive responsibility to people that look like you
Find a company where at least 30% of the people are smarter than you.
You will grow the most through the people who surround you, so make sure those people are really impressive. Because people tend to hire those they know, many of these people will likely be your colleagues for the next 30 years. So pick your colleagues wisely.
One simple heuristic to determine how smart the people at the company are is how selective they are in hiring. You want to pick a company that has a really hard (and often long) recruiting process where you need to meet a lot of people, complete a project, and have some grueling interviews. Because you know that everyone else the company hired went through the same process. So never take a job at a company that doesn’t put you through the ringer and make it really hard to get an offer. If the offer comes easy, best to decline the offer.
Opportunities to fail.
You grow the most when you have a 33-66% chance of failure. To improve, you want to be in a position where success is not guaranteed. I will not improve my tennis game playing against my six-year-old. (Of course, I will also not improve playing against Roger Federer). Too often, undergrads are put into jobs that they will definitely succeed at (this is too often true at some of the “best” places to work like McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, and Google). And while definite success initially feels good, it doesn’t help you grow very fast. You should find an organization that will give you projects where there is a high chance of failure.
Opportunities for massive responsibility.
Assuming you are an ambitious person who wants to have continued growth, you want the opportunity to be promoted and to be given continuously greater responsibility. The companies that are most likely to promote you quickly have a history of doing so and are experiencing high growth. If your abilities warrant it, you can also be given the chance. Also ask people during the interview process where you could be in three years if you turn out to be a superstar. If the company says “executive” — then that’s a good sign. (too often though it is “associate level 3”).
These three criteria are heavily weighted towards the selection of start-ups (fast growth companies with under 200 people). And it is not an accident that the very best grads over the last few years have been choosing start-ups over traditional choices like Google, Goldman Sachs, and McKinsey. In fact, so many great people are joining start-ups that traditional employers have been forced to massively increase salaries to attract students with the promise of short-term compensation. So you should expect to make almost 2x more at a company that will offer you lower growth company than at a company that will give you the option to get high growth. You have to decide for yourself if that trade-off is worth it.
Summation: But not all start-ups are created equal. Look for the ones that have a really hard interview process, where they give you an opportunity to fail, and have examples of people just a few years older than you that have been given outsized responsibility.
Note: this is based on a 2016 post I did in Quora.