Sheryl Sandberg’s speech to the graduating class of HBS is worth a read. My favorite part was her relating a conversation in 2001 with Eric Schmidt about an offer she had to work at Google:
So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him the spreadsheet and I said, this job meets none of my criteria. He put his hand on my spreadsheet and he looked at me and said, Don’t be an idiot. Excellent career advice. And then he said, Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.
In a way Sheryl and Eric are echoing the career advice of Marc Andreessen, who said:
Never worry about being a small fish in a big pond. Being a big fish in a small pond sucks—you will hit the ceiling on what you can achieve quickly, and nobody will care. Optimize at all times for being in the most dynamic and exciting pond you can find. That is where the great opportunities can be found.
Andreessen also recommends that “the best place to get experience when you’re starting out is in younger, high-growth companies”, because:
You’ll get to do lots of stuff. There will be so much stuff to do in the company that you’ll be able to do as much of it as you can possibly handle. Which means you’ll gain skills and experience very quickly.
You’ll probably get promoted quickly. Fast-growing companies are characterized by a chronic lack of people who can step up to all the important new leadership jobs that are being created all the time. If you are aggressive and performing well, promotions will come quickly and easily.
For this and more great career advice, check out The Pmarca Guide to Career Planning.