Substance carries a longer-term return than status when it comes to building your career and your resume.
By that, I mean the substance of your work at a company matters more than the status of the company for your long-term career development.
In other words, imagine you have the opportunity to take two jobs.
The first job is at company A. Company A is known inside its industry (so it isn’t some no-name startup), but it’s not a top-tier name that any person would know.
The second job is at company B. Company B is a well-known company. It’s pretty much a household name and it has the top-tier brand equity that comes with that.
The company A job is full of substance. It’s a promotion in terms of responsibilities and tasks. You’ll work on bigger projects than you work on now and you’ll have a lot to point to after even 6 months at company A.
The company B job is actually somewhat of a demotion. You’ll be working on less than you’re working on now, but it is a bigger, better-known company that you’re working at now. You can brag to your friends you work at company B, but the substance of your work will be less than that at company A after 6 months.
Company A is a higher substance job at a lower status company.
Company B is a lower substance job at a higher status company.
All else held equal, work at company A.
(In most cases, it isn’t even ceteris paribus because the higher substance job probably comes with better options and better pay.)
What Status DOES Help With
“But wait!” you say. “I’ve seen a ton of people who were able to move from a menial role at a big company to go on and do great things!”
Yes, that’s usually because well-known companies are honeypots for hiring and new opportunities. But by the time the company becomes ultra-high status, it’s often too late to notice those opportunities without substantive substance backing you up.
(Yes, working at PayPal before it got by eBay would be great, even if you were a codemonkey, but PayPal wasn’t super-high-status at that time.)
Working at high-status companies helps with getting your foot in the door for new opportunities, but that’s usually where the advantage stops. Recruiters may poach senior executives from high-status companies, or having a high-status company on your resume may make people pay attention to you at first.
But after you get your foot in the door, people look for substance.
“Okay, you worked at Uber as an executive, but you haven’t worked on major new initiatives or managed a team? Sorry. You just don’t have the experience we’re looking for.”
Why Substance Matters More
Substance is what allows you to seal the deal. It’s also what allows you to build alternative pathways to open the doors that status would otherwise buy.
As you advance in your career, people will hire you based on your proven ability to create value in areas that are increasingly complex. That complexity is gained only through substantive experience and signaled only through that experience.
You can take a more-substantive role at a higher-status company and use that to build a personal brand and reputation for executing on those kinds of tasks.
That can help you land introductions, which gets your foot in with the new opportunities you wanted to land through pursuing status.
Substance > Status.
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