Change it all

A new job, a new industry, a new city

Here’s the story of my journey from quitting a safe, high-flying job to finding something more inspiring and with a greater impact on society. No, this is not the set-up of some redemption, I-have-wasted-my-life-until-now Hollywood movie, but something many managers struggle with in this age of constant career switching. If you can relate, read on.

So, what do you do? You used to be on a defined track, and suddenly all options are on the table. Compound that industry and role switch with moving to a new country and surely, that must the best way to stare at unemployment for a while. It doesn’t have to be. There are ways to make it happen.

I’m not so big on talking about my credentials or my personal life (if you are curious, just look at my website or google me). The gist of it is I quit a high-paying job in New York to move to London. I had no job to move to, no deep childhood or university network to rely on, I didn’t want to do much more consulting, and I wanted to work in start-ups. That’s a lot of changes in one go, isn’t it?

So what do you do if you find yourself in that situation? Here is the advice I have accumulated during my two months job search:

  • Never say no. Go to as many interviews, coffee chats or trade fairs as you can, even if the role doesn’t sound right. Your time is precious, even more when you are not getting paid for it. However, in the lean start-up spirit, the best investment you can make of your time is to figure out what your product/market fit is. If you switch industry or role, you might not know what your value proposition is (i.e. you are the product). You will not know what kind of roles employers might want you for (they’re the market). By getting exposed to people in that industry, you will get the sanity check. I was a strategy consultant. Should I be a product manager? Should I do business development? Is business intelligence or strategy even a thing in start-ups? What do you think I’m good at? Do I need new skills? Do I need to pick up coding? You will find your product/market fit. It doesn’t feel good to be told no, but it’s the best way to learn.
  • Be passionate and talk about it: Enthusiasm is contagious. Curiously, people assume that if you are passionate about something, you will probably be good at it. I had an interview for a strategy role in a bank. I talked passionately about how digital was the future of banking and how banks needed to become tech companies. I didn’t get the job — the interviewer needed someone more generalist — but he liked my enthusiasm and redirected me to the digital group at his bank.
  • Do your homework. Or don’t, but face the consequences. Part of finding that elusive product/market fit is getting you out there and trying lots of different things. The best way is to do your homework: Check out companies websites, research hiring practices, follow thought leaders on Twitter, learn in detail about the role and stalk previous employees with that role on Linkedin to understand why they were coming from. Following that advice, one cannot realistically both investigate multiple random opportunities and be prepared for all. So expect failure. For example, I interviewed with a VC without knowing that they would focus on a deep probe of investments I had suggested in my cover letter. My bad. Now I know.
  • Get busy, learn a craft. There two bad things with unemployment: One is perception, the second is lack of purpose. Both are a bit of a killer for your prospects. The best way to remedy it is to pick up a craft you love and enjoy. It is an added bonus if your craft requires practical skills, can be goal-oriented and result in something you can broadcast. For example, I picked up coding and web design and decided to build my own website. Now, if people ask you how it is to be at home watching TV all day (and they will), you can impress them with your new learning. If you feel that demotivation is creeping up, you can set yourself to do something productive. It could be something as simple as maintaining a blog, having a strong twitter presence, or volunteering. As long as it help you stay sharp, go for it.

Some final practical advice:

  • You actually do have a network, you just don’t know it yet. Very few people move somewhere out of the blue. There is something that links you to your new place. Start there. Your family, partner or friends might know someone. Maybe that someone could relate to your experience or life and can give you some advice. Maybe that someone is in the industry you are interested in. In all cases, you probably will end up with some new people to meet.
  • Use your past. This is the no-brainer. You went to university. You had jobs. You were part of associations. These have alumni, who could be in your new city, or even alumni organisations with career or counseling services. Get in touch.
  • You are not alone: Thousands of ambitious people try to do something totally different somewhere else. Check out Escape the city in the UK or Fuyons la defense in France for some ideas. At least, you will find companies open to that mindset.

All this worked for me. In two months, I went from hardly knowing anyone in London to getting a job as a Business Development Executive at GoCardless, an ambitious start-up with outstanding talents and a product that superbly addresses the lack of access to Direct Debit for SMEs. Many other things came into play, but I hope I boiled it down to the main bits.

If you want to hear more about my experience or want to bounce some idea off me about your search, leave a comment or contact me!