Observations — Month One

This is the ongoing story of Matthew Knight, who is trying to figure out his next career step should be, spending his notice period exploring, questioning, pondering and musing.

London is full of amazing spaces to meet with others in. This is the National Theatre on the South Bank.

As I spend the next few months figuring out what I do, I wanted to share openly what I’m discovering as I step into the unknown of looking for a new job, in the form of observations.

Observation #1: You need a CV

It’s worth saying that I’ve never looked for a job before. Potted history of my career: placement year at university turned into full-time role at an agency which went under, so I started an agency with friends, which I left after eight years, and consulted for three — then was offered a position at Carat.

…writing a list of “stuff I did good” is figuratively and almost literally painful.

I’ve been incredibly lucky having opportunities to get involved in amazing projects and teams up until now — so, at almost 40, this is the first time in my career I’ve had to prepare a CV.

I have found this possibly the hardest exercise in my entire career — talking about myself isn’t something I find comes naturally. Wait, let me restate that accurately — talking positively about myself isn’t something that comes naturally — and a CV is, in effect, a list of the best stuff you ever did. I’m highly critical and self-effacing, and struggle with Imposter Syndrome — so writing a list of “stuff I did good” is figuratively and almost literally painful.

It led me to look at platforms like ‘My Single Friend’ and ideas of third-party written endorsements and reviews, and thinking about how CVs could be crafted of not what you think about yourself, but what others say about you — outcomes and impacts, not a listing of achievements.

Using Google Drive’s online apps has been enough to create visually interesting content, along with invaluable tools like The Noun Project.

But, with the support of many many good friends, I managed to craft something which I think, on balance, does a good job of explaining my T-shape.

It’s missing lots of nuance, I hate that it needs to be generically relevant to everyone, rather than tailored to each conversation — but its a start from which I can revise over the coming months for each individual chat (i seem to keep returning to it daily to tweak/change something based upon a conversation which helps me focus more on who and what i am). It also looks half decent, and has a ‘tear-off’ additional sheet covering my non-work projects should anyone wish to know about me outside of the 9–5.

Observation #2: Diary management is hard and boring

Keeping track of who I am having coffee with is a skill-set I clearly don’t have or want to have. I’ve outsourced all of my conversations into a CRM system. Yes — I have set up a CRM for coffees. I already have three diaries — a home diary, a diary for my children, and a work diary. They’re all meant to overlay and sync with each other — but sometimes it just doesn’t always match up, and I miss something — so I’m leaning on technology to help me keep track of things. A CRM to remind me of who I’m chatting to, and what state that conversation is in; some AI to help find suitable meeting times, and pretty much everything lives in the cloud and across all my devices — I’d be lost without gmail, dropbox and evernote.

Observation #3: Conversations are more way more fun and easy than my apprehension lets me think

I’m an introvert and don’t look forward to the idea of face to face meetings — although you’d be forgiven for realising it, as I don’t come across as that (I hope). It manifests internally as a voice which says I’m going to come across as stupid, or tries my hardest to avoid face to face meetings. But, I’m also stupid. Because I forget every time just how much I LOVE listening to people talk about what they’re doing, passionate, interesting, experienced, super-smart and brilliant people who are just doing some amazing stuff. Most of the conversations don’t seem to even discuss ‘work’ per se, and that isn’t really my intention — I’m just trying to listen lots, to see what other people have going on, to understand how people are facing up to their particular challenges. I’m very much seeing this as input input input — I’m not asking for a job, or trying to persuade them about me as an individual — but rather just absorbing all of the amazing and interesting observations other people have.

“I forget every time just how much I LOVE listening to people talk about what they’re doing, passionate, interesting, experienced, super-smart and brilliant people who are just doing some amazing stuff”

I’ve listened to people talk about their own crossroads and the intersections of happiness and wealth; studying and measuring the impact of emotional response in content through data; the importance of emotional intelligence in organisations; how cataclysmic events can create clarity; how writing CVs can help you step back and discover your own life’s purpose; the art of make-up design in film; how price and the perception of value are intertwined unfairly, someone trying to set me up on a date and someone on the phone to his wife who was going into labour… at that exact moment.

There’s also something massively valuable in writing up your own observations — transforming them from small notes into connected themes and stories you start to pull together over the course of many unrelated interactions and thoughts.

This next few months of writing and documenting the process is more for me than for any audience, but I’m hoping that it might be useful to others too, even if it does nothing more than help me discover more people to connect with.

This article has been published as part of an ongoing series of posts related to me looking for my next role. I’m working out a six-month notice period as Head of Strategy and Innovation, and wondering what I could/should/might do next. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been on, or are considering or would never go on a similar journey.

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