When I graduated from the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) in September 2010 I was certain of one thing… I didn’t want be an architect. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. But there was a problem. I had no business experience, no money to invest and very few marketable skills.
Two years on and things are looking a lot brighter. I went from being an unemployed graduate to becoming a founding partner of a social enterprise (www.goodpeople.co.uk) that has generated a deal flow of over £1million in its first year. We achieved this with a team of two full time founders, a part time developer and an extended family of advisors. That’s not bad for an unemployed graduate.
So how did I do it? There are plenty of more qualified, more experienced, more talented graduates out there who are still struggling to find meaningful work. What are secrets to building a fulfilling career where you can make money and make a difference at the same time?
1) Find your cause
My cause is social enterprise. I imagine a collaborative, clean, creative and interconnected economy. An economy that is built on trust and reputation. An economy that will reward organisations that understand the interdependencies between society, environment and business.
This is the future that I believe in. This is the cause that gave birth to GoodPeople.co.uk.
2) Develop skills that will make you indispensable to any team
Two years ago my design skills were terrible. I was a complete beginner. But I was determined to get better. I started by watching Illustrator Essentials on lynda.com (you can get a free 7 day trial). I came up with app ideas that I could mock up. I volunteered my skills. I built up a scrapbook / visual library of designs that I liked. I learnt how to setup a basic website.
I find that the best way to learn a new skill is through action learning. So create a project that forces you to learn something new and just get started.
3) Bury yourself in research and follow the trail of good content
The challenge that anyone starting a new career must overcome is a lack of industry / market awareness. It takes time to build up the level of depth and understanding required. That’s why we all need to get into the habit of doing critical research.
One trick that I have learnt is to follow the trail of good content. If you find a good blog article add it to your feedly / google reader stream. Bookmark it using evernote or Diigo. You can also use twitter search in a smart way. Take the URL of an article or video you like and paste it into a twitter search. Chances are you will find other people who have shared the same link. Follow them.
The golden rule is… good content leads to more good content.
4) Find your tribe and then take it offline
There are people out there who share your values and passions. People who will give you bundles of energy and inspiration. These are the people who you want in your tribe. These are the people you should be connecting with. These are the people you should be learning from.
A really good way to get a meeting is to ask for very specific advice for a project you are working on. Everyone loves to share their knowledge, wisdom and expertise. You have nothing to lose. And remember eighty percent of job opportunities come through personal networks.
Another trick is to create a portfolio website that showcases your personal brand. This is so much more memorable than sending a CV. About.me and Wix.com are both free tools that you can use.
5) Give Before you Take
Volunteering is a great way to build your skills, gain experience, grow your network and ultimately find a job that brings out your best. Volunteering reduces the risk for the employer and gives you time to build trust and learn about an organisation’s culture and needs. When I first met RIchard, the founder of GoodPeople, I didn’t ask for a job and a big salary. I volunteered my time. I listened. I found a way to create shared value. And before I knew it, I became a founding partner of the business.
A new metaphor for building a career in the 21st century
In summary, building a career used to be like climbing a mountain. You know your destination (the peak) and you work your way up the organizational ladder one promotion and qualification at a time. I don’t think this is how the world works anymore. Today, building a career is more like helicopter skiing. You are dropped on the mountain and you have to find your way down without getting buried in an avalanche or falling off a cliff. There are no tracks to follow. All you can do is point your skis down the mountain and try to dodge the trees and rocks in front of you. The best way to get down the mountain safely is to have a trusted group of friends with you.
Successful careers are built on a strong network of friends and connections. So.. start building yours today.