‘Choose a boss, not a company or a job’: Career advice for Millennials from MING Labs COO

Ever wondered what makes for a great hire?

Let’s be honest: There are tons of career advice out there. From best practices for interviews, must-have skills to pick up, to job advancement tips, the list is endless. The most effective way to set yourself up for success — and earn that offer letter — is to take career advice straight from an influential leader himself.

Meet Sebastian Mueller, the COO of MING Labs — a design and development company based in Berlin, Shanghai, Munich, New York City and of course sunny Singapore. All for digital transformation and innovation, the team behind MING Labs works with clients across varying industries to connect the dots between corporate strategy, internal enablement and world-class UX production.

Having been raised in Germany, moved to Shanghai nearly a decade ago, followed by another move to Singapore four years ago, Sebastian has no doubt had his fair share of working in dynamic cities and being a part of a fast-paced industry. The experiences in those countries ultimately shaped who he is and how he perceived the world.

“I can’t sit still, can’t stop working on new ideas, can’t stop reading and can’t stop questioning everything around me. The pace of life in Asia has given me the understanding that change is the only constant. The need for adaptability has never been greater than it is now.”

Experience. Experience. Experience.

You hear this keyword a lot during your interviews — but what is often forgotten is the real definition and intention of it. Sebastian explains “experience” doesn’t necessarily equate the success you’ve achieved or the relevant formal education you had as it dates quickly.

“Where does experience come from? It’s all about yearning to try out things, failing, and learning better ways,” he continues. “When I speak with candidates looking to join MING Labs, what I really want to hear are the experiences they have: The times they faced a completely new challenge, the time they screwed up a project and how they salvaged it, what they learned from it and what they are doing now to avoid making that same mistake.” Ultimately, he wants to know that you can go above and beyond to be accomplished.

“If you can demonstrate that loop to me, then I know you will continuously improve and excel, which are the kind of people I want to mentor and nurture.”

Nothing beats a steep learning curve

Of all the prevailing stereotypes about millennials, one of the most cited is our generation’s sense of entitlement. In most cases, we typically ask for a salary far much higher than what we’re worth, or expect an immediate job offer straight after graduation (I’ll admit. I have had those thoughts).

Sebastian pulled out an exciting point where some entry-level job offers may match your salary expectations, but at a point where you know nothing about the world and business, you ought to make learning your highest priority instead.

“Who do you want to work for? What do you want to learn from them? Choose a boss, not a company or a job. That will make an immense difference.” He further reasoned by working with the right people you can make a career of your own and turbocharge your development.

To learn, you’d need to own your differences too. It’s pretty simple: get to know yourself and understand your strengths and weaknesses. Only when you can comfortably talk about what you are seriously good and bad at, can you correctly position yourself.

“From your initial contact, the material you share, to what you say, make sure you present yourself that allows you to stand out in the best way possible that is in line with your unique personality,” highlighted Sebastian.

As Oscar Wilde said: Be yourself – everyone else is already taken.

Moreover, Sebastian encourages us to work on our strengths and not our weaknesses. He explained he values making improvements in areas we are not good in – but at what cost?

“Working on your strengths can pay off in orders of magnitude. Those are the jumps you’d need to get yourself on an exponential growth trajectory and uncover your real potential.”

While being aware of your weaknesses and mitigating them is essential, Sebastian stresses the importance of continually developing your strengths and playing your cards right.

Opportunity doesn’t knock – we find the door

When asked about pursuing job opportunities and chasing one’s passion, Sebastian’s answer took me by surprise. It wasn’t your usual textbook answer of “Love what you do, and you'll never work a day in your life”. He introduced me to the concept of Ikigai – finding a balance between what you like, what you are good at, what you can get paid for and what is valuable to society.

“This is where you’ll find fulfilment and purpose, rather than a vague sense of passion.”

Sebastian went on to outline how following opportunities to a certain degree does make sense. For example, no one will start a business they are passionate about if there is no opportunity in it.

“Take what you like to do and what you’re good at as a compass but stay open to follow that path into new industries and geographies.”

Of course, merely following opportunities without the balancing aspects is not advisable. This will only lead to an overly strong focus on financial outcomes, compromising your values and interests, and eventually disillusionment or burn-out.

Pave your career path

It’s no secret that there are many pathways to success. Throughout your life, you will always receive career advice – some bad and some good. What you do with the information is up to you, but in some instances, it can change the course of how you go about your career.

As for Sebastian’s advice, he likes to share with millennials who are scrambling through the jungle gym, “The mistakes you made were necessary to get you to where you are today. Maybe learning certain lessons sooner might help – but in the end, you only learn them when you’re ready.”

Need more career-related advice? You know where to find it: sg.wantedly.com

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