Stop Hedging Your Career

My career began in the grain industry where I learned about hedging.

When trading grain, hedging means to take a position in the market to remove a risk from the equation. Often this position is the exact opposite of the position that you are hedging.

For example, let’s say I have the opportunity to buy corn in Kansas because I think it’s cheap, even though I can’t sell it right away. I can hedge that purchase by going out and selling corn in another market, let’s say California.

This eliminates the risk of the entire corn market going against me. If the entire market goes up I lose on my CA sale but gain on my KS purchase and vice versa. This is way oversimplified, but hopefully you get the idea.

With how volatile the commodities markets can be, hedging is an essential practice to manage risk.

But do careers work the same way?

I would argue THEY DO NOT..

I see a lot of people out there trying to hedge their career. Meaning they will hop on one career track because it’s a “good background to have” or “to cover my bases” or “just in case I want to change careers later”, only to do that for a little while before hopping on another career track.

I am guilty of this thought process. This seems silly now, but I can remember having concerns about going into grain merchandising because I thought “it will all be traded electronically in the next 10 years”. I almost went another direction even though trading was what I was most interested in at the time. I let the risks enter my thought process and almost made a mistake as a result.

When building a career, you want to build UP instead of just building OUT. I constantly see resumes with backgrounds that seems to bounce around all over the place. Maybe they work for a couple years in sales just to “check sales off the list”. Then do another 2 years in other areas such as operations, safety, accounting, management, marketing and technology.

This is an extreme example of hedging. The person thinks that they are building a strong foundation to build on, but instead they are building a broad base that makes it increasingly difficult to build UP.

If you’ve been working for 10 years, but you’ve built OUT instead of built UP, you don’t have 10 years of experience. Instead, you likely have 1 year of experience 10 times!

Unfortunately, these candidates come to me bragging that “they’ve done it all” and what I have to tell them is that most employers want to see an upward trajectory on a clear path instead of someone who has been hedging to cover their bases.

Most employers want to look at your resume and instantly see a career trajectory that is leading you straight to them. DON’T take this as a “resume tip” or a way to try to manipulate your resume to look like you’ve had this trajectory. No amount of truthful wordsmithing can disguise a career that’s done nothing but hedge itself.

But what if you focus on one trajectory and it ends up being the wrong one?

First, there is always going to be some risk. But, I’d rather take this risk, then the certainty of not building a career at all by trying to hedge every step of the way.

Secondly, you are a more marketable candidate if you’ve shown the ability to follow through with one career path. If you have to make a change down the road after you’ve given it your all, that’s ok. At least you’ll have proven yourself in one field so that you can make a case that you’ll be equally as effective in your next field.

In short, take the rifle approach to your career objectives instead of the shotgun approach. You will surprise yourself at how much more you can achieve.

Have you “hedged” your career in the past? How has it worked for you?

Tim Hammerich

Tim is a strategic communications consultant, founder of AgGrad, and the host of the "Future of Agriculture" podcast. Originally from California, he is now based out of Boise, Idaho.