Early in your career, your skills tend to grow linearly with your experience. However, after a few years, this growth curve stops being a given.
The worst position to find yourself in career-wise is being “experienced but not skilled.” It raises concerns among potential teammates about your expectations, ability to learn, and ego. Sometimes, this might be misconstrued as ageism, but it’s really not about your age but rather your years of experience. Unfortunately, they tend to be correlated to some degree.
As a talent, what you should take away from this information is to increase the “depth” of your experience. If you care about growing your career meaningfully (perfectly fine if you don’t), prioritize learning by taking on challenging projects, even if they seem “below your level.”
Although optics management will always play a role, it should never be a priority. After all, there is only so much self-promotion you can do when the “product” can’t live up to the promise.
On the other hand, if you are a manager, you should hire based on real skills, not years of experience and titles. You want to reward real impacts, not just cherry-picked OKRs, sugar-coated achievements, and empty credentials. Conventional management advice will not teach you how. It has to come from your contextual knowledge and meticulous observation. In other words, you also have to be skilled enough to tell.
A recent quote from Shreyas Doshi sums it up beautifully:
Highly competent people are always in demand, in good times and bad. So really the best long-term career strategy is to focus on becoming highly competent. But it is impossible to do this if you only want quick hacks or if you tell yourself the story that there is no such thing as high competence.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that the system is far from perfect, which is exactly why we have to be more intentional about creating an environment that values true talent.