What Can’t I Find A Career? 3/4
In the first part of this article series, we discussed how you need to change your mindset when considering your career. In part two, we discussed how to identify skills to develop to build career capital.
In this article, we discuss how you can use your career capital to help you achieve your career missions. I also use myself and my career so far as an example of what we have discussed so far in action.
Cash In Your Career Capital
You have gained career capital when you are considered an expert in your field or a specific role.
This could be as being a top performer in your team, a published author, or an online influencer on a certain topic.
It is now the time to look to cash in that capital and power up to the next level.
A couple of words of warning here:
- Do not become so confident in your role that you become complacent and drop the ball.
- Do not burn your bridges and step over people to gain that promotion or start your own consultancy to the detriment of your old business.
- And remember where it all started and your pursuit of finding work in which you have autonomy, competence and connectedness.
I hear too many stories of people who have stepped over a colleague to get a promotion who then find it difficult to get the remaining team to work effectively.
Or someone who has started their own consultancy forgetting that their old boss will be their main client/competitor and are surprised that they find it difficult to win work.
By all means, be selfish to be selfless in pursuit of your mission. But do it in a way that maintains the three rules of happiness in your work and in a manner that propels your career forward rather than making life difficult for yourself further down the line.
“Be kind to your future self.”
Let’s use me as an example
This is not a copy of my LinkedIn profile, but a look back at my career and how the above has (often unconsciously) influenced my career path so far and what my missions for the future are.
Upon leaving school
When I left school, all I wanted to be was a professional rugby player. Sorry, I’ll rephrase that, I was going to be a professional rugby player. I was the captain of Great Britain U’16’s at the time, I planned to play in the reserves grade for a couple of years, then hit the big time.
At the time rugby would not be a full-time endeavour so rather than getting a job I went to college to study A-Levels in subjects that I was good at or interested in — Information Technology, Business Studies and Maths.
Looking back at my rugby career, I had the mission but I didn’t have enough of a practitioner’s mindset when it come to working on my craft.
I constantly practised and honed my strengths — passing, tackling and kicking. But didn’t take a deliberate practice approach and work on my main weakness — speed out of dummy half.
I did play professionally but at a much lower level than I would have liked to.
As for going to college, this was probably seen as ‘Plan Z’ for me at the time but, in fact, was a great way of building career capital to be used in the future — even if I did make it at rugby it would have come in handy in my 30’s when I retired as a successful rugby player, the qualifications would become useful.
If I am honest I didn’t really put too much effort into my first year at college and was on track to fail my courses. It wasn’t until I met my girlfriend, now wife, in the second year that I took on a deliberate practice approach and got my head down and passed all three of my courses.
One other thing to mention here is related to open doors. When I applied for my chosen university and they found out that I played professional rugby, they offered me an unconditional place on the course of my choice.
Although I made the grades in the end, this was my first sight of an open door. If I didn’t play rugby this offer would not have been on the table.
Upon leaving university
I chose my Business Information Systems subject at university as I thought that e-commerce was going to be the next big thing — this was 2001 so my thinking was correct. Although I managed to pass with a 2:1 at the end of the 3 years, I left with the knowledge that I never wanted to see a computer programming language again.
Additionally, at the time of leaving university, it was clear that I was not going to make a career out of rugby. This gave me the stark realisation that I needed to find a ‘real’ job.
At this point in my life, I had just turned 22, I had no work experience and no job.
Looking back at this time and why I found myself in this position, with some thought I can see that I was lucky. Although I continued to study at university as a Plan Z, it was actually a smart application of deliberate practice.
I was being paid to play rugby during my time at university and I still lived at my parent’s house, therefore it was not really feasible to find get a job. Playing professional team sports was building career capital. But this is something I discovered later down the line.
My first couple of jobs
Even though I didn’t particularly want a long-term career in the computing industry, I found myself applying for jobs that fitted with what I had learned at university.
At the last count, I applied for 90 jobs, only getting 3 interviews and the feedback that I received was that they couldn’t employ me as I had no previous work experience.
It was at this point that I took any job that I could find. The first one was a job in Manchester selling heating insulation door-to-door around Moss Side. What an experience that was!
Luckily, after a couple of weeks of door-knocking, I was offered a job at QVC working in their telephone customer service centre. This was only a temporary job so ended after a couple of months.
It was here, that I started working as a labourer on a building site working with my dad while I searched for a proper job. “I’ve not paid for you to go to uni to work on a building site” my dad would say.
9-months after leaving university I finally landed a real job at the Royal Bank of Scotland.
My 9-months post-university job-seeking phase highlights the importance of career capital as part of your career progression. Regardless of whether you choose to make a change or you are forced into a change, if you have no career capital, you will not be able to progress in your career.
As far as employers were concerned, I was 22 and had never worked a day in my life.
That being said, I did find that it is somehow easier to find work when you are in a job. This is why are say to anybody out of work to find a job, any job and take it. You can quit if it doesn’t work out, but working makes the process of finding a new job easier.
Unbelievably, due to my “customer service experience with QVC” I was offered the role of Customer Service Officer (cashier) at RBS in Leyland.
I thrived in the bank. I had a strong work ethic learned playing rugby, with an enthusiasm to learn and put myself on every course available through the bank — which at the time was pretty much anything you want to do.
During my 6 years at the bank, my career path looked like this; CSO > Customer Adviser > Mortgage Adviser > Area Sales Manager > Bank Manager. During my time at the bank, I built skills in customer service, financial products, sales, marketing, management, and leadership.
Around 2008 I could see things starting to go sour in the banking industry so I decided to start to look for other career opportunities.
During this phase of my career, I earned a lot of career capital in an industry that was well respected. And it was after earning this career capital that an open door found me.
Getting Into Nuclear
At the time I started to look for work outside of the Banking Industry, I was still playing semi-professional rugby. I mentioned to a couple of other players on a commute to training that I was looking for a career outside of the bank.
One of the players was undertaking a graduate scheme at Sellafield Ltd and one of the other players mentioned that his uncle also worked at Sellafield Ltd and if I would send him my CV he would pass it on.
Short story, there was an opening for a Junior Commercial Manager to shadow a Commercial Manager with the intention of taking his job in 2 years’ time when he planned to retire.
Due to my career capital of having a degree, working as a Bank Manager, playing professional sports and the open door of the introduction, I was offered the role.
I think that this shows that you do not have to build lots of career capital over many years to progress, but if you focus on your development through deliberate practice, the opportunities will present themselves from places you never imagined.
Nuclear Project Manager
I immediately fell in love with the nuclear industry and all that it stood for. I build a passion for the sector rather than being born with the passion to work in nuclear or even engineering for that fact.
Six months into my new job, the person I was shadowing decided that he was going to work for another 5 years before retiring. This closed the door on one opportunity but by this time I had already decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a project manager as “it just looked like being the captain of a rugby team to me”.
I upskilled by completing the APM course and exam, became a qualified PM and started working as a Project Engineer, then Project Manager, then Senior Project Manager and now Programme Manager.
I really enjoy my work and can honestly say that in the last 15 years I have never once dreaded going to work. It’s the opposite in fact.
It is amazing to look back and see that even though I didn’t realise it at the time, by continuing to work on my career capital through upskilling myself and gaining relevant experience, I have built a decent career in an industry that I am passionate about.
Neither my role, nor the industry that I work in was on my list of potential career paths when I left school, or university for that matter.
I am also, one of those who stumbled into the nuclear industry!
Get Into Nuclear
After about 10 years of working in the nuclear industry, I started to become interested in how I can start to support the industry as a whole. I felt that I owed the industry something.
I love projects and delivery and bringing together a team for the cause of a common goal. But, I didn’t feel experienced enough to start my own project delivery organisation or training company — it is still an aspiration for the future.
At the time I was disappointed by the lack of support for nuclear energy and the lack of interest in people looking to get into nuclear. Due to my varied career path, I was often asked “how did you get into nuclear?” which I could answer, but I found it increasingly frustrating when I struggled to answer questions on how they could get into nuclear.
I decided to set up a website, getintonuclear.com, with the aim of raising the profile of the nuclear industry providing links to where people can find information on where to upskill and where to apply for live jobs.
I never really knew where I was going with this but believed that the details would work themselves out down the line. I naively expected that companies would soon be queuing around the corner to give me money as they were as passionate as I was.
Looking back, I made the same mistake here that I did with rugby after leaving school. I focused too much on what the industry can do for me more than on what I can do (and get paid) for the industry. This is a mistake I’ve been paying for over the last 5 years.
So far, I had always worked hard to build career capital until I had enough to cash in and pursue my next challenge. I have never just dived into something based on an outcome or passion basis. Due to this, I have lacked direction and clarity in what I am doing, and this has led to a failure on my part.
Looking back, it would have been much better to have created a simple blog and focussed on producing articles that provided value to the reader, whilst building my writing skills in the process.
In the meantime, I could have built career capital in areas that I saw would be rare and valuable in the industry — marketing, content creation, social value, career development — and attended/joined as many networking/training groups as I had the time to do so.
In addition to this, I believe that the blog would naturally have built my career capital as someone who is looking to make a change in the sector and would have been just as effective in raising the profile of the nuclear industry and where people can find training courses and live jobs.
The attention from the blog and my upskilling and networking would have opened doors to opportunities to find ways to get paid to solve the problems being faced by the sector.
Instead, I have a website that needs a lot of upkeep although it does have a little bit of attention. However, I am not seen as a practitioner of any rare and valuable skills and I am now in the position that I am the one chasing people to find a route to market.
“What is it you do?” I’m asked.
“Oh, I’m still working it out. A bit of this and that” I reply.
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You can find the next article in the series here.