I’ve strayed slightly off-topic for the last few posts (if my blog still has a ‘topic’ – I guess it has just become an occasional outlet for some more general musings on life and my experience of it), but this one is firmly back in the ‘career change’ zone. It’s nearly two years ago that I said goodbye to my previous job, as well as my rather comfortable salary and security. Time is playing its usual tricks on me in that it both seems like so much longer ago, and like yesterday at the same time. I’ve said this quite a few times before, but I will say it again: thank god I made that jump. It’s not always been easy, but I am so much happier now.
The prompt for this post is, happily, that I have a new job. At the end of April I’ll be joining the team at Fabrica, an exciting contemporary visual arts organisation and gallery based in a 200-year-old church in the centre of Brighton, as Business Manager. It’s taken me bloody long enough but at age 35 I think I finally know what it is that I want to do, and this is it. I did a little dance around my living room when I heard and keep smiling when I think about it.
This may seem like the most obvious statement in the world, but even until recently I just did not fully understand the importance of self-confidence in the context of applying for jobs. I remember, before I left my old job, talking to a colleague who had kindly offered to give me some support with interviews if I ever needed it in the future. He had been a senior civil servant before being seconded to the company I worked for, and I remember him saying that he had never not got a job he’d applied for. I remember thinking how incredible that sounded – not because I doubted for one second his skills or experience, or ability to present himself, but just because I couldn’t quite imagine being able to ‘crack’ the job application process full stop.
As I have probably said before (apologies for repeating myself, there is a point to this), I hadn’t ever really had to apply for jobs, having rolled into my then career by accident via a temping agency in York back in 2003. But I had tried to ‘escape’ a few times before and applied for jobs externally. I only managed to get an interview once, and didn’t get the job (that is, if you don’t count that time I got an English teaching job in Moscow that I didn’t take for a whole set of different reasons – I do sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out if I had!). The whole thing just seemed like a big miserable mystery to me, and something I’d rather not deal with.
I recently re-read my diary from 2009, or at least a few bits of it because I was pretty depressed at the time and it doesn’t make for very cheerful reading. It’s probably a good sign that the following paragraph, written on what was then my sixth work anniversary, actually made me laugh out loud when I read it again:
I know I need to find another job but still find it difficult to get rid of the feeling that I will never, ever, be able to do anything else. That I am only doing this by some fluke (that much is true) and that I am incapable of being employed in anything else. I will just have to stay here doing this work until I drop dead finally, of boredom and self-loathing.
Ha! Quite the ray of sunshine, wasn’t I? At least I stayed *only* another four years, and I was still very much alive when I finally did leave.
My lack of self-confidence must have been pretty evident in the applications I wrote (despite the many agonising hours I spent on them), but it also showed in the jobs I chose to apply for. Much as I researched them and the employers offering them, I had no real understanding of any sector other than the one I happened to be working in. There was no plan and no conviction. I didn’t have any real passion for the sector I was working in, or the work I was doing, so never even thought about trying to get another job in a similar organisation elsewhere.
All of this is very easy to say with hindsight, of course. At the time, I simply hated the whole process. I didn’t understand it, and I now recognise I had no real confidence generally in myself or my ability to do anything other than what I was doing at the time. As is pretty evident from the diary fragment above, deep down I never really believed I could do any of the jobs I was applying for – and that must have been so obvious to whoever was assessing my applications. And no amount of ‘top five do’s and don’ts’ type articles on the Guardian could have ever helped me with that, sadly.
Now, I am not going to say that I’m just going to be able to get whatever job I go for now, obviously. But, I applied for two jobs recently and was offered both of them. I never thought I would ever be in a position where I would want to turn down a job offer, but that is what I sort of ended up doing with the first one. It was a good job, but it didn’t feel quite right and I knew on some level that I needed to hold out for the other one. Maybe that was highly foolish, but it obviously paid off. I worked hard on both my application and my interview for the job I really wanted, and despite my hideous post-interview nerves the offer email said I had been an outstanding candidate.
I have learnt an incredible amount in the last two years about a sector I had zero experience of before. I’ve had a variety of roles and had the privilege of working with so many interesting organisations and individuals – all of which has had a massive impact on my confidence professionally. I’ve also learnt a huge amount about myself. I am less afraid to take risks and I think I’ve become a lot more flexible and adaptable. My new job is part-time, which before would have probably stopped me from applying for it. I now feel reasonably confident that I’ll be able to supplement it with some freelance work – and I like the fact it leaves open the possibility of working elsewhere. There are many challenges in my new job and I will have to prove myself, but I don’t feel daunted by that. I understand a lot better what I have to offer – I think I recognise my own value, without being arrogant or complacent.
So I think I have finally slain my job hunting dragon. I now understand that, apart from being obviously very well-qualified, my ex-colleague would have also worked hard to develop himself professionally, picked vacancies carefully and strategically, and exuded confidence. There is no magic involved in this process, it turns out, other than hard work, passion and confidence. I know that this is exactly the type of thing I would have read back then and thought ‘yeah that’s easier said than done’, and I would have been right. Still: if you recognise anything of yourself in this, hang on in there.