The path to ‘success’ isn’t always clear, or easy. It will mean something different to each of us but in some capacity, we’re all working toward the career, family and lifestyle that we desire. Our workforce is also changing at a rapid pace and being adaptable to new conditions and opportunities will be vital for future-proofing our careers! Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way of finding work but there are five key things we can do to give ourselves the best chance of finding opportunities, and success.
I co-convened a Communication Careers Forum at Deakin University in late-2019 and we invited several industry professionals to speak or participate in a panel discussion, from new graduates to ‘industry veterans.’ They all shared advice on how tertiary students can build their personal-professional brands and portfolios, so they can ‘stand-out’ in a crowd of new graduates looking for their first paid gig.There was so much valuable and inspiring advice shared, and at the end of the day, one commonality emerged. Every speaker and panelist had actively sought opportunities beyond those offered in their core studies or scope of employment. And not just one opportunity – they had consistently engaged in formal and informal professional development and fostered industry connections.
This thought about actively seeking opportunities reminded me of Stephen R. Covey’s book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, in which ‘Be Proactive’ is the very first habit. Covey defines people who are proactive as being able to “achieve extraordinary results by consistently executing their R & I (resourcefulness and initiative) to break through barriers.” So, what are some steps we can all take to be proactive and seek the right opportunities?
You might have heard it before, but in today’s digital world and competitive job market, being visible online is one of the best ways to showcase your skills and be ‘seen’ by others. What you publish will depend on your own skillset and goals, but blogging is a universal activity that can establish your credibility and personal brand, regardless of your chosen industry.
Blogging will showcase your ability to reflect upon, and document, your journey through learning and developing new skills. This is equally as important for those studying or working in criminology, healthcare or cybersecurity as it is for those in public relations, digital marketing or journalism. You can also publish your visual design work, podcasts, videos and any other multi-media creations.
Contrary to popular belief, a ‘portfolio’ of work doesn’t have to be a single, tangible piece. But, curating your best work on a website such as WordPress, a YouTube channel, Soundcloud account or other multi-media platform will be a wonderful asset to show potential employers and/or clients.
A website is often the most flexible in terms of format and the ability to host multiple media forms but there are dedicated portfolio sites designed for specialties. For example, if you have an Adobe subscription, they offer a portfolio site that you can upload your photography, video or designs to. Journo Portfolio offers a similar service for journalists, and there are many others out there too.
The final piece in the puzzle for being visible online is to share your work on social media. Every time you post a new piece or learn a key skill, share it; even posting reflections or observations while you’re in the middle of a project can help to establish your brand. The choice of platform is up to you but do consider which one is most suited to your brand. Often, sharing across multiple platforms and tailoring your content to each will be most effective.
The word, ‘networking’ instills a sense of dread in many people, but it doesn’t have to. Making connections can be as simple as introducing yourself to someone in your industry and asking for some advice or feedback on your work. It can also mean strategically expanding your online network through social media sites, including LinkedIn.
The other way you can connect with others is to attend short courses and networking events connected to your community and/or industry, in real life. Often, the best way to reduce your anxiety around networking is not to think of it as a big task, separate to the rest of your life — the most natural way to do this is often by engaging in conversations. You could do this by complimenting someone on work that they have shared online.
When you approach networking with the intention of building genuine connections, rather than promoting yourself, people will often be more open to talking with you and sharing advice.
Tell friends, family and anyone you meet about what you’re studying or doing for work. If you’re a freelancer, talk to local business owners. Tell them what you’re doing and ask them about their business and goals.
Valuable connections are often made through the discovery of common interests or goals. You might be able to help someone else, or they could offer you some paid work. Job opportunities can come from the most surprising places – sometimes, through random connections between friends or acquaintances that you were never aware of before.
‘Working for free’ is not something that most of us jump at. However, doing some design, photography, writing, marketing or other work for a strategically chosen business or organisation can elevate your portfolio and reputation. Visit local businesses, online and in real life, to offer your services. I do recommend clearly defining the work you will do for them first; it can be an excellent strategy to do initial work for free but it’s unsustainable to do this forever. If a business continues to ask for service and time beyond your initial agreement, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask them for payment. You can either negotiate a fee and continue working for them, or if their budget doesn’t allow it, you might have to decline future work. Often though, a business will be very glad of your services and willing to provide a testimonial or reference in return. Even if they’re not, you will have a valuable addition to your portfolio.
Talking directly to business owners can be a nerve-wracking task but it is amazing how many opportunities are out there once you start actively looking for them! As with many things in life, it will get easier over time. It might also help you to consider what the worst thing is that a business could say? “No thanks”, or, you might not hear back from them. In either case, you can simply move on to those who do want your help!
Be a lifelong learner
Learning doesn’t stop at the end of formal education. Often, graduating from your certificate, course or degree is where the real learning begins. One of our speakers at the forum was PR ‘Warrior’, Trevor Young. One of his messages that particularly resonated with me was to “feed your curiosity.” Trevor extended on this by saying that we should always be critical – think things through. Make it your business to know what’s happening in your industry, continue evolving and you will see opportunities that other people miss. You can find Trevor’s blog, podcasts and much more at Digital Citizen.
Incidentally, Trevor never went to university, proving that success doesn’t necessarily come from formal education. It’s much more important to practice your craft, develop key skills, publish your work and share it online. Then, actively seek out networks and opportunities to find your success!