Beware of the Default Path

The mistake that is holding back the working world

I spend a lot of time mentoring and coaching college students. I was having a conversation with a student a couple months ago and he asked me “people that take this job don’t typically do X after, will this limit my options?”

I get some version of this question a lot and have come to realize that there is a deep seated “default path fallacy” that is holding back enormous amounts of human potential.

This only gets worse as people progress through their career. As they take multiple roles in a field — lets say accounting — they start to define themselves as that role regardless if they enjoy it or not.

They start to think about future career options in a very limited way: “I’m a senior accountant now and next I can look for jobs as a lead accountant”

I’ve talked to many of these accountants and many of them hate their jobs. They sit there and wait for recruiters to call with that next “step” in their career.

They are doing what others expect.

The onus does not solely fall on the individual. The default path fallacy is even deeper ingrained in recruiter’s minds. Assessing talent is hard. Consider the fact that only 21% of company performance (at most!) can be attributed to anythign the CEO has actually done. In lieu of trying to figure out if someone is a fit for a role, recruiters rely on simple patterns and heuristics. So when they recruit for a lead accountant, they narrow their search to only senior accountants.

With this behavior, the default path fallacy become a vicious cycle that only strengthens over time.

Part of the answer is having robust training and development — something I have seen many companies neglect. With a high quality training program, you can recruit a wider variety of people. How do you think McKinsey gets away with hiring doctors, accountants, art history majors and PhDs? They have done a good job of breaking the default path cycle, but more companies need to do more — we need more people in the jobs that get the best out of them.

The other part of the answer is to have people take a deeper look at who they are. What are you good at? What excites you? What holds you back from pursuing roles or jobs outside of your field?

Without people questioning conventional wisdom companies are going to keep hiring the same people on the same default paths.

Dream bigger!

About Paul Millerd

Paul is a writer, creator, and curious human that is passionate about how people can reimagine their relationship with work to do things that matter. He published The Pathless Path in 2022.