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23 May

On job insecurity and building a career moat.

This is true for jobs as well.

Employees who are unsure if they’ll be able to find another job in the market easily tend to engage in unhealthy behaviours like sticking with their current one, even if they don’t really enjoy it.

You’re disincentivized from leaving because you want the money to put food on the table and pay the bills.

But if you don’t like your job, it neither helps you nor your company. And if you dislike your job, it is highly unlikely that you’re irreplaceable either — although that may not be true for some exceptional people who just outgrow the company or feel they’re not getting their fair share of the value.

In any case, the result is you get more and more disengaged by the day, trying to lie low, making sure you do enough so that your managers don’t notice.

The environment slowly starts feeling toxic. And if you’re not irreplaceable, every time you hear companies laying people off, your heart skips a few beats. You feel you might be next in line.

This describes both bad marriages and employee-employer relationships.

And it is rooted in one fundamental insecurity of not being able to find alternatives.

So, then, how do you prepare yourself in a way that you’re never in want of a job? Another way to frame this is to ask yourself the question, “How much does it cost me to search for a new job?”

When I say cost, it is in terms of

  1. The time you spend looking for a job
  2. Potential monthly salary you'd be giving up while you search for one
  3. Psychological costs
  4. Social costs

But if you've thought about your career strategically and established the right career moats, this cost should go down significantly over time.

I remember Charlie Munger said in an interview once, and I paraphrase:

"Cash is like air. You want to make sure you have plenty of it around."

While Charlie said this in the context of investing, the same goes for job offers when it comes to careers.

For a successful career, you want to build career moats that make hiring you a no-brainer for employers.

What’s a Career Moat?

Wikipedia describes a moat as, “… a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that is dug and surrounds a castle, fortification, building or town, historically to provide it with a preliminary line of defence.”

Essentially, a moat is something that is built around fortresses or castles to defend it from enemies coming in.

In the context of careers, a moat is something that makes it difficult for someone to replace you.

If you are easily replaceable and the work you’re doing can be done by many others with little to no training, then you do not have a career moat. But if you’re doing the kind of work very few people in the world can do, you have a strong career moat.

And when you’re starting out, it’s essential to experiment and figure out what your own unique career moat is that makes you indispensable to your employers.

It could either be in terms of sheer skill. The quality and finesse in your work is unmatchable.

Or it could be in terms of your professional hygiene. You’re great to work with and anyone who works with you has a smooth experience.

Or it could be in terms of your network and personal brand; the relationships and trust you bring to the table.

It could even be in terms of capital, although capital is usually a side-effect of having a career moat, not a cause for it. But yes, once you have enough capital, you can work with a relatively higher degree of freedom and flexibility. You are not insecure anymore. You can easily quit jobs you do not enjoy doing and focus on doing work you enjoy.

If you have amassed significant experience in number of years but still feel that it would cost you a lot — both financially and psychologically — to search for a new job, you're doing something wrong.

And it’s time you start thinking about what your Career Moat is and how you build one.

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