How to Advance in Your Career—Even in a Cutthroat Economy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Four" by Scott Galloway. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What four qualities do you need to get and keep a great job? What specific actions should you take to get that job? How can you stay ahead in a competitive job market?

In The Four, Scott Galloway explains that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have created a cutthroat job market where it’s hard for average employees to succeed. He offers advice on how to develop personal qualities that foster career success, land a great career, and continue to climb the career ladder.

Keep reading to learn how to advance your career in the era of Big Tech.

How to Advance in Your Career

In addition to all the other ways in which they’ve impacted society, the Four have fundamentally altered the job market, says Galloway—and the era of Big Tech is here to stay, regardless of who the next tech giant is.

Not only have the Four contributed to job destruction and the decline of the middle class, but they’ve also created a highly-competitive environment in which average workers have a hard time competing and succeeding. You need to be exceptional to make it in the new digital world. In this section, we’ll first take a look at how you can develop the personal qualities that Galloway says are necessary if you want to know how to advance your career in the cutthroat economy created by the Four. Next, we’ll explore Galloway’s advice for landing a great career. Finally, we’ll examine his recommendations for getting ahead in your career. 

Develop Personal Qualities That Foster Career Success

Galloway advocates developing four personal qualities in order to get and keep the best jobs:

1) Emotional maturity: You’ll need to be able to appropriately express and control your emotions to manage the constantly changing responsibilities of the digital age. 

(Shortform note: Ironically, while emotional maturity would seem to be a baseline requirement for any employee, some tech leaders exhibit precisely the opposite behavior: impulsivity, demanding attention, name-calling and bullying, avoidance, and narcissism. For example, Steve Jobs was known for bullying and berating his employees. Likewise, Travis Kalanick knew about and arguably contributed to an environment of misogyny and sexual harassment at Uber. There is an ongoing debate about whether leaders such as these succeed because of or in spite of being so-called jerks. The consensus, however, is that some of their actions are abusive and illegal.)

2) Curiosity: In the tech era, everything moves at a rapid pace, and if you don’t embrace it, it will mow you over. Rather than resisting change, be curious about it. Part of curiosity is being proactive: For every four things you’re asked to do, says Galloway, come up with one idea or deliverable that wasn’t part of the assignment.

(Shortform note: Galloway suggests that curiosity is beneficial because it helps you embrace change, but curiosity can help you succeed in many other ways, too. Research shows that curiosity boosts memory, patience, and innovation, and makes you more open to hearing other people’s opinions.)

3) Ownership: Assume ultimate responsibility for every aspect of your work projects.

(Shortform note: While Galloway implies that ownership is within your control, research shows that employers also play a big role in fostering ownership in their employees. The concept of ownership comes from the term “psychological ownership,” which means the feeling of having a stake in your job or organization. Employees are more likely to feel psychological ownership if they learn about their organization and are given opportunities to contribute to their work creatively and make important decisions.) 

4) Grit: The digital economy is competitive, and competing takes grit—the ability to persevere despite failures.

(Shortform note: In Grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth expands on the concept of grit. She contends that the most successful people embody traits of passion and perseverance, which she defines as resilience in the face of setbacks. But developing grit requires hard work, deliberate practice, and a purpose beyond self-interest. You’re more likely to stick with your goals, she says, if you’re pursuing them to increase the well-being of others.)

Land a Great Career

Galloway also offers advice on specific actions you can take to increase your odds of landing a great job:

  • Go to college. Galloway says that college grads make ten times more over their lifetimes than people with only a high school diploma. He advocates going to a “name-brand” college because the prestige opens so many doors.
  • Move to a city. More than 80% of the world’s GDP is generated in cities, and tech companies are increasingly located in large urban areas.
  • Focus on your talents. “Follow your passion” is common career advice, but Galloway advises that rather than follow your passion, you should follow your talent. Figure out what you’re good at and become great at it.
  • Go corporate. Creative, “sexy” careers often pay very little and are highly competitive, notes Galloway. More “boring,” corporate jobs offer high pay and stability.
  • Consider your career trajectory. Choose employers or departments based on opportunities for promotion.
  • Get equity. When you are negotiating your compensation, try to get shares in your employer.
  • Consider entrepreneurship. Finally, if being an employee isn’t your cup of tea, consider whether being an entrepreneur might be a better fit for you.
Defining Career Success

Although he doesn’t say so explicitly, Galloway makes clear that his advice is geared toward those who are seeking the highest-paying, most prestigious jobs available.

But, not everyone defines career success as high compensation, stability, and a series of promotions. Some measure it in less tangible ways, such as a degree of fulfillment or work-life balance. For example, acclaimed author Maya Angelou believed that career success was about enjoying what you do for a living. Basketball coach John Wooden said it was about doing your very best. And Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (author of Delivering Happiness) believes that success is about living in accordance with your core values.

Depending on how you define career success, your methods for achieving it may differ from those recommended by Galloway. For example, if success to you means being in the trenches developing new tech products that will improve people’s lives, you may not want to accept a promotion that will mean you’ll primarily be a manager, rather than a creator. If you define career success as working just enough to support your love of hiking and camping, you’d probably rather work for a smaller outfit in the country than move to the city to have access to a higher-paying job. 

Furthermore, Galloway’s advice suggests that the main alternative to being an employee is being an entrepreneur—however, this option requires a high level of self-discipline and a lifestyle that may not be feasible for many. Instead, those tired of working as employees might apply Galloway’s advice on talent development with the goal of finding a more autonomous way to be an employee.

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport explains that developing your talents gives you “career capital,” or rare and valuable skills that you can use as leverage. A major perk of career capital is that oftentimes, you can “cash it in” for autonomy—the ability to control what you work on and how you work on it. In other words, with enough focus on developing your talents, you may be able to retain the stability of employment while enjoying many of the freedoms of entrepreneurship.

Advance in Your Career

Once you’ve managed to install yourself in a great career, Galloway recommends climbing further up the career ladder and getting ahead of the competition by doing the following:

  • Don’t try to achieve balance. According to Galloway, you shouldn’t try to balance your work and personal lives. Work harder and faster than the people around you, particularly during the first five years of your career, when it matters most.
  • Do PR for yourself. Advertise your accomplishments, both within your company and to a broader audience via social media. Doing good work that you don’t get credit for can lead to your career languishing.
  • Ask for and give help. Galloway advises asking for help from people senior to you and providing assistance to people junior to you.
  • Be loyal to people, not companies. No matter how benevolent they seem, companies aren’t people. Develop your relationships with people. People value loyalty and may reward you for it.
  • Exercise. Galloway points out that the trait most common among CEOs is a regular exercise regimen. Staying in shape physically helps you get ahead mentally.
  • Take a measured approach to success and failure. Don’t let success go to your head, and don’t let failure sink you. You will experience both, so learn to accept both and keep moving forward.
  • Be a serial monogamist. Give your all to your employer for three to five years and learn everything you can, then start considering other options. If you get a job offer from another company, give your employer a chance to make a counteroffer.

(Shortform note: Galloway’s advice for career advancement echoes that of many other business leaders. But focusing primarily on how you can get ahead of everyone else may not be sufficient to succeed. Experts note that other skills, such as teamwork, collaboration, and fostering relationships with your coworkers and bosses are necessary to get ahead. For example, in The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey argues that the key to career success is establishing trusting relationships with other people. Trust between employees fosters innovation, collaboration, and efficiency—which not only benefits them, but also their employer.)

How to Advance in Your Career—Even in a Cutthroat Economy

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Scott Galloway's "The Four" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Four summary:

  • A hard look at the success of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google
  • How The Four have had a profound and negative impact on our society
  • How to make it in the cutthroat economy created by The Four

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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