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What the former Wall Street trader can teach us about standing out by being early…

Last Updated:

March 22, 2024

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Did You Know? with Gorick is the official newsletter of Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules. Each week, you’ll receive one story from the past, one study from the present, and one strategy for your future.

My goal: to give you—in the time it takes to finish on the toilet—one piece of practical career wisdom you can apply today, no matter if you’re a student or a seasoned professional.

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A study of the present

In January, Handshake, a job board for students, published data that caught my eye: From 2021 to 2022…

  • The # of tech job postings in technology decreased by 14%
  • The # of tech job postings in government increased by 36%
  • The # of tech job postings in construction increased by 28%

What does this data suggest? It’s possible to work on tech even if you don’t work in tech. After all, tech is all about doing things more efficiently…in which case, every company is a tech company.

So what? A line I love repeating is “if you’re on time, you’re late.” You’re not late if you want to work in tech, but you’re not early, either. Meanwhile, if you were to work in, say, government, construction, or another sector that isn’t (yet) filled with tech people, then you could be early. And being early means less competition and more opportunity.

A story from the past

It’s 2010 and the New Jersey Nets hired not a basketball player, but an atypical role at the time: a Head of Analytics.

This new hire was Milton Lee, a 5’9” former Wall Street trader who started his career at companies like ING and S.A.C. Capital.

Milton Lee (via NetsDaily.com)

Was hiring Lee a mistake?

Lee makes the following case in his Wall Street Journal (paywall) interview: “Whether I am trading or playing basketball, everything has a probability: A certain earnings number coming out or a free throw percentage..statistical analysis in basketball is an effort to quantify that probability.”

Over a decade later, “sports analytics” is now a booming industry in nearly every sport, from hockey to golf to soccer.

So, the next time you watch any sport, know that there’s a job for you, even if you don’t play the sport. And if there isn’t, it just might not be invented yet.

A strategy for your future

It’s hard to stand out as a data nerd among data nerds (or a writer among writers… or a good presenter among good presenters). It’s easier to stand out if you’re an “X” among “Y”s.

Try this:

  1. Write down a skill that you are good at (e.g., graphic design).
  1. Write down an organization you’ve come across recently (e.g., city hall).
  1. Finish this sentence: “If I were a ______ at ______, I would do ______.” (e.g., “If I were a graphic designer at city hall, I would make all of their public notices ‘pop’ more.”)

…and just like that, you just came up with a reason why others should hire you! The fact that this organization isn’t doing what you can do means they need your help. You’re just early.

I know it because I’ve experienced it: Management consulting (my former life) was all about making frameworks. Who knew I’d take my frameworking skill and apply it to career navigation.

Keep searching!