Don’t Rely on Your Career Commas

You may not realize it, but the path that your career takes is currently being held hostage by a pernicious punctuation mark holding outsized sway over the direction of your professional life.  For as long as careers have existed, they have been guided and influenced by The Comma.  

The Comma dictates what employers will give your resume a second look.  It provides a proxy for what jobs you’re qualified for, and what salary you’ll earn.  Having the right Commas confers a validation upon you that can open up doors to succeed professionally.  I can attest personally—for much of my career I've been lifted by my Commas: I've been invited to speak on panels as "Scott Pollack comma American Express" and received untold LinkedIn invitations as "Scott Pollack comma WeWork."    

Traditional employers hiring from a traditional workforce for traditional jobs have bestowed a tremendous amount of power and influence in The Comma, but the Comma’s reign is coming to an end.  The world of work is changing, and the Comma is losing its grip on power.

How did we get here?

Let’s say your dream in life is to be an accountant.  A world ruled by Commas provides a clear path to achieving your goal: just go to one of these top-ranked colleges to study accounting, then go to work in one of these top-ranked companies known for producing top-notch accountants, where you’ll be surrounded by a peer group of fellow accountants to learn from and commiserate with and work alongside for a career.  Do that, kid, and you’re set.

Our Commas come from the schools we attend, the companies at which we work, the certifications we earn.  Careers have been built on the backs of these traditional support structures, and our Commas provide us with social proof: An employer can make a judgment on the fly based on a potential employee’s Commas without having to invest the time or energy in getting to know them.

But the institutions that have traditionally supported careers aren’t as relevant as they once were.  As jobs evolve and new industries are birthed from technological shifts, new and emerging fields - jobs like Business Development, Data Science, Customer Success, and Product Management that didn’t exist too long ago -- don’t have clear career tracks with Commas that provide external validation.

Additionally, the younger generations of the modern workforce aren’t eager to work for a company solely because of its prestigious brand name— Millennials and Gen Zs are much more driven by a company’s culture, mission, and the opportunities to learn, grow, and impact change.

Perhaps the most egregious impact of the Comma is how it perpetuates underrepresentation. While it’s true that securing a highly-regarded Comma requires hard work and intelligence, it also requires a significant amount of privilege and luck. Where your born, where you go to school, your parents’ wealth and education—all of these factors play a part in what career paths you have access to and what Commas you collect.

So what now?

As Commas lose their relevance, new structures need to be built and put in place to support the professional development of the modern workforce.

We’re building Firneo to have a new structure to support a less comma-dependent world.  A career support structure that is truly meritocratic, and inclusive of all voices and perspectives, no matter who you are or what Comma you may or may not have.

Replacing the archaic structures of the past will be communities that support the future.  Instead of gaining validation from your associated brand names, you will be validated by your own actions and contributions to your professional community.  Your engagement in a community - the relationships you forge, the knowledge you share, the value you give - will provide an opportunity to build a reputation based on your own name, not your Commas, that unlock opportunities.

Like many privileged individuals, I’ve been fortunate in my life to have been lifted by the Commas I’ve collected, and have doors open for me because of it.  Yet for so many bright, talented, and hard-working people, those doors never opened because Commas were the key.

As a community, we can build a support structure for careers without commas and relegate Commas to the dustbin of career history.

Scott Pollack