Guest blog by LSE alum Kimia Pezeshki who shares some advice on how to start your career off in an effective and successful manner:
There are many more career options available to you than you may have thought of. Everyone has heard of a lawyer, but most people haven’t heard of legal document automator. The traditionally well-known professions only account for a tiny minority of the roles available on the job market. The fact that we hear them over and over again means they get far more exposure, prestige and consideration. We think we need to go into one of the obvious roles, (or maybe it’s too much effort to research into the thousands of other career paths that exist), but this isn’t the case. Perhaps the worst outcome of this is that whilst well known internships, graduate programmes and training contracts are increasingly competitive, many of the people who take these more obvious routes don’t even end up liking their jobs – they were simply in ‘default mode’ and didn’t know what else was out there.
You don’t have to read the Penguin Career Index to find out about all the jobs in the world. Instead, I’m going to give you some useful life tips which will prevent you from falling into a default mode, and will help you to take much stronger control over your future.
1. Take an interest in the economy
You don’t have to study Economics, or anything to do with it. By economy I mean, what is in the news that relates to money? Who is making it? Who is losing it? Why? Follow trends in the things you find interesting, for example if you like fashion, look at how fashion houses behave, who they sponsor, whether they are publicly listed, what affects their shares, their profits, their popularity, etc. If you like politics, find out who funds the parties, think tanks or lobbyists that you are interested in. What are their motives?
By thinking in this way, you will be more in tune with how to get a job. You will understand why a person/company/organisation would or wouldn’t invest in you, because you know what value you would add in monetary terms. You will learn to recognise opportunities before they are advertised, making for stronger speculative job applications.
2. Be open minded
Today, the world moves faster than ever before, industries have evolved in unrecognisable ways (eg. Uber’s disruption of taxis), while other industries have been entirely replaced by new ones (think Odeon and Blockbuster vs Netflix and YouTube). Your career will also change and evolve. Your job may even become redundant in your lifetime. That’s why it’s important to stay informed and open minded about new types of jobs. Don’t ignore an opportunity just because it doesn’t fit with the narrative you grew up with. Our parents’ generation may have had to be more apprehensive about hopping from job to job, as in their day this may have signified an inability to ‘hold a job down’. But now, it’s no longer unusual for people to change careers several times in their life, so it’s not like you have to stick too close to the ‘script’ that you originally had in mind.
Relevant work experience is the most valuable thing you can put on your CV, and you never know what’s going to be ‘relevant’ to your future employers. For example, at LSE I used to be a brand manager for a charity that I thought I wanted to work for. Years later, having decided I no longer wanted to work for them, I would use that experience as a prime example of my pitching skills, for jobs that involved an element of business development.
3. Network and know the value of your network
My first job after graduating was Assistant Researcher for my LSE professor, who then recommended me to a law firm where I interned and eventually became a paralegal. My boss then recommended me to other lawyers, and so on. As for networking events: these can be really useful if you learn how to do it well. It can be nerve wracking to walk around a room of professionals you don’t know and try to talk to them, but if you want to get good at it, you can. Remember: no one was born a networker, it takes practice, and everyone knows this. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, get one. The later you leave it, the more behind on it you’ll be, not only in terms of your connections and online clout, but also your technological fluency. Online networking is becoming increasingly prominent, so by participating now, you will stay on top of the cultural nuances of this landscape, keeping you native in the specific etiquette of professional internet life.
4. Have a mentor
Someone out there has already done what you’re trying to do, they have established themselves and they feel good about helping other people get to the same place because they can relate to your struggle. Usually, people like to help someone who they see themselves in. A good tip is to find someone who you connect with because of having something in common, such as being from the same LSE department, the same city, or sharing a name even. If you want someone to be your mentor, just ask them. The worst that will happen is they say no. A great advantage of being mentored is you save a lot of time on learning the basics because they will steer you in the right direction and prevent you from wasting lots of time on a pointless exercise. Remember to always treat your mentor kindly and with respect, bearing in mind that they do not owe you their time.
5. Be passionate
You’re more likely to excel in something that you love to do. This is because you will do it with passion and curiosity, always learning and improving. If you have a business idea that you really believe in, you’re already halfway there. All the skills and knowledge that you need will come to you naturally over time because your excitement will push you to learn them. Be able to identify what kinds of activity give you great energy. If you’re going in for an interview for a job you love, your enthusiasm will show, and that’s always a big tick for employers.
6. Know the industry
Having said that, being passionate about your work needs to be balanced out against how comfortable you feel in the work environment. Sometimes it can be a trade-off. ‘Know the industry’ is the less obvious advice which I wish I had been given at the beginning of my career. Your workplace is your second home. It’s where you work, but it can also be like a family. Different industries have different types of people, cultures, atmospheres and values. You must choose your career path with a clear idea of the type of people who go into that industry, and what it feels like in that space. Say you love art, and you would like to work in galleries and auctions. Have you got to know people from the art world? Ask them about the culture (if you don’t know anyone then search online for ‘UK art galleries culture’ or something similar). If you then decide any issues are issues you’d be willing to face, then you can still pursue your dream but you’ll be aware of what to expect. As someone who was always into debating at school, I thought this meant I should become a barrister. Then I discovered that barristers work alone. Their workplace is usually a courtroom, where the culture is very traditional and alien to many people. By contrast, solicitors work in teams, in big offices, with a collaborative and slightly more modern culture, and with regular client contact. Being passionate about advocacy was not enough to sway me towards the barrister lifestyle, so I took the solicitor route.
7. Write a mission statement
One of the best pieces of advice I received was to write a mission statement. This is a short, easy to understand blurb about your overall career aim. It could be ‘I want to be a respected academic in my field and have five textbooks published by the time I retire’, or ‘I want to work for a charity and directly contribute to lifting 5,000 children out of poverty’. Quantifying and clarifying your aim helps with staying motivated, and knowing what you have to do when you wake up each morning. I have my mission statement as the wallpaper on my ‘phone.
Top tip: It’s okay for your mission to change, but make sure you update it to reflect the change as soon as it happens. This will help you to take it seriously.
8. Have a sideline
Do you have your own blog, podcast, or thriving social media channel? Are you part of a semi-professional sports team, or building a mobile app on the side? Perhaps you have a retail job that you’ve had since you were 16, or a couple of family friends whose children you tutor. Keep your side jobs and projects going! It’s really easy to get consumed by your main work commitments so much that you lose sight of these, but they are still very important. Our generation has more choice and flexibility in employment, but we have less job security than the generations before us – these are two sides of the same coin. Just as we may get head-hunted for a better job by recruiters on LinkedIn at any given moment, we are also susceptible to the sudden loss of a job. Your side projects are your Plans B, C or D when Plan A goes through a rough patch. You may not be making money from your blog today, but if you keep it going, one particular post may go viral one day and win you a nice chunk of advertising revenue. The point is, keep your options open, your mind busy, and your projects diverse.
Top Tip: if you don’t want to spread yourself too thinly, think about how you can connect your various jobs and projects with a running theme. For example, you may be pursuing a career in marketing, and your side projects include flyering for your local nightclub, and a Youtube channel about branding. That way you can carve out a niche for yourself, with a clear area of expertise.
9. Don’t worry about lulls
Being unemployed is not fun, and it can feel very demotivating, but don’t worry. It’s totally normal. At the end of the day, you won’t be unemployed forever. There is an extremely competitive job market for university graduates at the moment, and different types of success will come to different people at different times. Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to others. Your time will come. As long as you keep applying to jobs, stay busy with side projects, and focus, you will feel like your time is being used wisely, even if you have to limit your spending to the minimum basics for a while.
10. Know your worth
Sometimes at the beginning of your career, you may find yourself taking a job in which you are underpaid or even work for free. Please always remember to keep track of the value that you’re adding. There are times when all you’re doing is shadowing someone – it’s more of a favour for you than for them, because you’re getting experience, so it might make sense not to get paid. Similarly, your employer might not pay you much but be very attentive and take an active interest in teaching you useful skills. In these circumstances, obviously stay humble and understand the value that they are adding to your CV. However, there are many instances where working for free is simply not fair. Make sure that before you start your employment you are absolutely clear on how much they intend to pay you, and when. Find out when you can expect your salary to increase, and what you need to be doing to qualify for a raise. Think about your personality too. If you’re reward-motivated, perhaps you should try a job with commission. If you prefer to work on your own time, consider freelance career paths. It’s really important that you feel valued for the work that you’re doing. Remember that there is usually a bit of room to negotiate.
Have fun! Establishing a career doesn’t have a script, there is no ‘normal’ way to go about it. Most people end up working where they do for very random reasons. I hope the tips above will help you to take control over your career and accelerate your success. Always stay creative, steer clear of default mode, and enjoy the climb!