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What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s not a question I’ve spent much time thinking about lately, but it was a question brought to mind when I appeared on a panel discussion for 100 business students at New York University last week. Each one of them is confronting the new career choices brought about by the Internet. It’s hard for me to relate to these kind of choices. I feel like the gorilla in this picture—some kind of more primitive form that made career decisions at the same age as these students. The world really has changed.

30 years ago, students like these wondered if they should go into sales or marketing or public relations. They wondered if they should work for a company or an agency. A few decided to go into direct marketing, but not many. They decided to focus on B2B or B2C businesses. They might have cared about which industry they worked in. It might have seemed complex at the time, but it was a far simpler set of choices than students face today.
Now, all of those choices are still in play, but it’s harder to draw stark lines on the Internet. Where is the line between sales and marketing? Or between marketing and public relations? Where does search marketing fall? Is organic search considered PR and paid search thought of as marketing? Is a search for “family restaurant” marketing while one for “pizza hut delivery manhatten” sales?
The questions themselves are dizzying. But as I thought about things more, I started to realize that I am making the same kind of decision that these business students are—in fact we are all making the same decision every day. What’s really changed in the last 30 years is that you don’t choose a career and stick with it forever. In some ways, you choose your career every day.
And it dawned on me that maybe the old categories are not important anymore. Who cares what is considered to be sales or marketing or PR? Why do you need to know? Why is it important for you to constrain what you do based on those old labels?
So when those students quite naturally asked the panel how to choose, I gave the so-helpful answer, “Whatever blows your skirt up.” I went on to explain that the winners will be the people that can draw upon whatever skill they need at the moment—sales, marketing, PR, and others, too—to solve the problem at hand. In the last 20 years, management gurus have celebrated the idea of cross-functional teams. I’d like to celebrate cross-functional people.
So each day, as you decide what you are going to read, what you are going to work on, and ultimately what you are going to learn, you are making a career decision. You are slowly choosing what you focus on. And you can change your mind and focus on something else every day. In the end, your career isn’t a label, it’s the sum total of what your knowledge, skills, and experience make it.
So what is your career going to be today?


Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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