Thursday 25 November 2021

Time for new adventures

I'd only intended this 'sabbatical' to last for a couple of months, and though the latest lockdown threw a spanner in some my plans for my 'doing whatever I want' time, there have been a few concerns growing in the back of my mind:

  • Money. It almost goes without saying, but money is kind of a necessity in our society. Whilst I've saved to create an adequate buffer for the short-term, it will run out, and I'd like to have a job before that happens.
  • Time. Few people would blink at a resume gap of a couple of months. More than that, and it becomes an issue. Whilst I enjoy having this time for me, I'm aware that there's a growing risk of long-term unemployment, the longer I take.
  • Collaboration. But most importantly, I do miss having a team of people to gather with on a daily basis and work on interesting and challenging projects together. Jobs allow us to do this *and* get paid for it. I do currently get to do a little of this through my volunteer work, but it's mostly with people who volunteer on the side of full-time jobs, and so naturally it's not the same as collaborating with somebody who can dedicate a lot of time and energy to the thing.
So, I've been searching and applying for jobs. I've set myself a few ground-rules:
  • Don't pigeonhole myself. It would be natural to simply just search for 'librarian' and 'communications' work, but there are interesting jobs out there that sit outside this scope. In fact, one of the more interesting jobs that I had an interview for was completely out of left-field, but still aligned closely with my skill-set. Similarly, temp agencies have sent me job descriptions for work that I would have never have considered. Admittedly, some of them were clearly not a good fit for me, but other suggestions have expanded my outlook for the kinds of work that I might want to consider.
  • Don't apply for just anything that I can do. There are definitely jobs out there that I could do quite confidently, but I know that my heart just wouldn't be in it. If I have doubts during the application process - especially after speaking to the hiring manager - then I give myself permission to bow out, and focus more on those applications that I really feel enthusiastic about. Applying for jobs is hard enough, without dedicating the time and energy into an application that I'm not one hundred per cent sure about.
  • Get paid more or learn more. I know where my strengths are, and what I'm worth. However, I also know where I want to build new skills, and in those areas it's worth considering roles at a lower level than I'm used to. To expand my experience at a comfortable level of responsibility, whilst being mentored by a good supervisor - definitely worth taking a pay cut.
There's one thing that I've particularly found useful and enjoyable about this process, that I haven't always taken advantage of previously. You see that bit in the job ad that says, 'For more information about the position, contact xxxxxx'?' I've come to realise that it's such an important part of the process that is often understated.

Firstly, it's an opportunity to become a familiar name and face if you're an otherwise-unknown entity. You can't assume that there won't be internal applicants - I can almost guarantee that there will be. It's a chance to make an initial impression on somebody who will be shortlisting applicants. So, while you're asking questions about the role, be sure to add little tidbits of information, like, 'Oh, I worked at the National Library for a few years and they used XXX platform. Do you use something similar?' It's also encouraging if they also ask you questions about yourself - so be ready to pitch yourself!

It's an opportunity for them to move away from the corporate speak of the position description, and give you a meaningful interpretation of what the job entails, and what particular skills and experience they prioritise and value. A good manager will already have a good pitch ready - after all, they want to attract good people to the role. If you come away from the conversation still having little idea of what's involved, then that could be a red flag.

Finally - and most importantly - it's a chance to gauge what this person might be like as a colleague and supervisor, and perhaps glean something about the work culture. In some cases, a couple of initial questions have turned into a fun and stimulating chat, all about the way they work, what some of the pleasures and challenges are about the job, and the different approaches there are out there in addressing the prevalent issues. These conversations really get me excited and enthusiastic about applying - and I hope they also get the hiring manager looking forward to seeing my application. These social connections are so important, right from the get-go, because they are going to influence everybody's impression of whether they want to work with you or not.

In one such conversation that really resonated with me, the manager acknowledged that they was a lot of movement happening, and that they were looking to take a chance and attract staff from the many people out there who were currently seeking 'new adventures'. 

New adventures sound great to me, and I'm all for it.

Monday 8 November 2021

The great reinvention

For months now, we've been hearing about the great resignation. As society starts emerging from 12-18 months of lockdowns and working from home, there is - unsurprisingly - a trend of people leaving their jobs, often without something secure lined up. Some have decided to return to study whilst others (such as myself) have decided to take a short break, and bank on having a number of choices reveal themselves in the coming month.

Indeed, just scrolling through my LinkedIn feed yesterday, I spotted a couple of posts from people in my extended network saying things like:

"I've made a tough decision to say farewell ... So, where am I off to? Well, I don't know yet! My new adventure is still unfolding, even to me... looking for the right fit, a place where I can add value and make a sustainable difference with my skill set... it felt right to close this beautiful chapter before starting a new one."


"I have always been so proud to work at XXX and always felt safe, supported and enabled. But not us the time to take a risk and try something new. ...Time for a small break and onto the next opportunity."

In a way, it's a comfort to know that it's not just me that is doing this!

And it's certainly not a reflection on my previous employer. I was talking to a friend recently who told me that they were just exhausted, and wanted to do something different, but also didn't have the energy to learn a new job from scratch right away. And with this exhaustion, they weren't in the right mindset to go through all the processes of job applications and interviews.

So, when I heard word of a 'great resignation', I was initially skeptical. After all, we've been waiting for the retirement of baby boomers for 15 years, and perhaps the imminence of a great resignation in Australia has been greatly exaggerated. Still, it makes sense in theory - many of us have spent much of the past two years holed up in the same domestic space where we sleep, eat, work, read/watch tv, and sleep again.

Whilst working in a busy office has its share of social interactions, distractions, and the gratification that comes with collaborating and having in-person validation from professional peers, working from home is an entirely different experience. It is an isolated time with plenty of opportunity for introspection, and where I often get energy from the presence of colleagues to stay motivated and on-track, when I'm working from home, I have to come up with all that energy myself.

It can be exhausting, and when you need to summon up all that energy, the questions arise: Why am I doing this? Is this all there is? What do I want to do when the world opens up again?

Again, no shade on my previous employer, who were a wonderful team to work with, but if I'm not being my best person in the workplace, then maybe it's time to move onto something else.

Which brings me to my gripe of today - the phrase 'the great resignation'.

When I see this term arise, it comes out of a place of panicked fear - and from the perspective of the employer. Oh no! People are deciding that they want something else from their lives, and now you must quickly change your work culture to keep them! Here's a listicle on how to make your brilliant staff stay!

Firstly, people have *always* been resigning from crappy jobs, so this isn't a new trend, but by all means, if you manage a team with a toxic culture, you should probably change that. Secondly, my best managers have always been 100% supportive of my leaving to take on new and exciting opportunities, and if you really care for your workers, the best thing you can do is shake their hand and offer to be a reference once they start applying for jobs.

And then you can go out and start headhunting rising talent that have left other organisations in search of a new challenge to shine in.

So, I'd like to rename this current phenomenon as 'the great reinvention'. A time to switch things up again, try new things, build new teams, and explore new opportunities with a new workforce with new skills.

One thing's for certain - if this pandemic was already too long to be locked up in the same space day in, day out, then life is definitely too short to be spending it doing the same thing year in, year out. So, let's embrace change!