My Catch-up With Captain Hindsight

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my first 6 years in the working world.  In that time, I’ve been lucky enough to have been an employee and an employer and one thing I’ve noticed is that graduates a year into work are much more desirable than those fresh out of university.  It’s a great way to avoid the entry-level mistakes that are made at another company’s expense.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of student and graduate employment, but year in year out, the same mistakes are being made by a new generation of people.

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My chats with Captain Hindsight are always a pleasure and this particular meeting was summed up nicely by Judy Belmont:

‘Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know
now what seems so obvious in hindsight.’

Below are the minutes taken from the meeting, if the contents of your next chat are different to mine, then this article has been a success:

Mid-week drinking etiquette
There are few things more exciting than going out for drinks on a school night; it’s naughty and everyone knows it. After all, isn’t the best business done at the bar?!  Things will probably get pretty loose and my personal advice would be to sit back, enjoy and let nature take it’s course.  As long as someone senior is more intoxicated than you are you’ll be fine.  However, when you wake up the next morning feeling like you have been scraped off the bottom of a shoe, be sure to follow the office hangover etiquette guide below:
1.  Get to work on time at all costs.
2.  Get your head down and crack on.  If you prove you can work hard and play hard, it will impress.
3.  If you’re lucky enough to still be drunk when you arrive, ride the wave and use it build some momentum.
4.  No mention of the hangover, you’re not at university any more.
5.  If none of this is working, go and hide in the toilet for as long as you can get away with.

How much are you actually worth?
Your salary is a reflection of the return on investment that you will bring to the company/social enterprise/charity you work for.  Whether you are in sales, administration or human resources, ultimately you have an impact on the bottom line.  So when the time comes to ask for a raise, don’t expect to get one unless you can show your employer how you will maximise their return on investment in you.

Learn to manage up
Relationships work both ways and while it might seem like a role-reversal, you can and should manage your boss.  Here are some simple ways of doing this:
1.  Manage expectations; under promise and over deliver. It is all too easy to get carried away with an exciting development that hasn’t yet happened.  Bosses don’t like nasty surprises, so while it might feel good to get some praise in the short-term, it won’t feel nearly as good as when it’s happened.  This is a fast-track way to becoming the most reliable person in your team.
2.  Keep one step ahead by pro-actively scheduling in meetings with your manager.  If you own the meeting, you own the agenda.  As with any meeting, all attendees should know what they need to have prepared and make sure there are clear outcomes and action points.
3.  If a project is looking like it may veer off-track, have the foresight to recognise it early and the guts to tackle it head on (yes that means tell your boss!). Sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich and hoping everything will miraculously sort itself out will only make the matter worse.  Instead, bring solutions to the table and don’t dwell on how it wasn’t your fault.  Your solutions may not always be right, but you will be approaching it in the right way.

How to write an email
Obviously spelling and grammar must be perfect, but something equally as important is tone.  It’s so easy to misinterpret an email and doing so can cause unnecessary friction with the recipient (this incidentally, is probably responsible for the unfortunate increase in work emoticons 😩🔫).  Business is built on relationships, so put personality and feeling into your correspondence and check that nothing will be misread.

Don’t forget your manners
If something is paid for by the company; don’t just take it for granted.  I’m not just talking about the jaegerbombs your manager bought you on Thursday night, what about the qualification your employer has paid for to aid your development, or the client lunch your boss invited you?  If you enjoy the perks, appreciate them and remember, givers gain.

Everyone is replaceable
If you work for an SME, the chances are the skill set that you build will become more and more specific to the company that you work for.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are irreplaceable and that no-one else could take your place.  Don’t get complacent for two reasons:
1.  If you don’t produce the goods they can always train someone else.
2.  You will stop pushing yourself and where growth stops, decay begins.

Pick up the phone!
If you’ve been given a task that involves people remotely, don’t waste time waiting for them to reply to an email; pick up the phone and get it sorted there and then!  Use emails to confirm action points.  You’ll finish projects faster and build relationships quicker… win:win.

Your manager isn’t always better than you
You have been employed because you are seen to be the best person for that position, just because your manager used to have your job, it doesn’t automatically mean they are better at it.  Markets change, paradigms shift and as a result the challenges will rarely be the same.  Ask for their advice, but don’t expect them to have a magic solution for every problem that comes your way.

Working Overtime
Many companies will expect you to work well above and beyond the hours you are contracted for, especially if you’re heading for a career in finance or law.  In fact, they’ll even offer incentives like free dinner or a taxi home if you are working past a certain ungodly hour of the night.  Think that’s unfair? Yeah probably, but if you are lucky enough to be in a job that you enjoy, you’ll be willing to give your time to it.

Don’t chase the brand
One of the biggest misconceptions of finding employment post-university is that the graduate job market is a saturated one.  Countless articles in the press describe how applicants are competing against hundreds and sometimes thousands of others for one position.  This is rubbish, there are jobs everywhere. The problem is everyone applies to super brands like Google, Accenture or GSK without any knowledge of the job they are actually applying for.  There are incredible opportunities everywhere and my happiest friends work for companies that I had never heard of at university.

Ownership
Take complete ownership of every project you are assigned. For example, a networking event involves sales, marketing, administration, operations and finance.  It’s unlikely that your job description covers every area, but as project manager, the success of each ultimately falls on your shoulders.  Be thorough, delegate appropriately and leave nothing to chance. I was advised by Tom O’Leary, the former Curator of TEDxHousesofParliament, to hold ‘where is it going to go wrong‘ meetings with each sub-team – a very valuable piece of advice.

Take pride in the invisible details
One of Steve Job’s design philosophies was that every detail of a product must be beautifully designed, regardless of whether it was going to be seen or not.  The same applies in your job. Often it’s the attention to detail in your work, the bits that you think no-one will notice that make the external aspects exceptional.

Thanks Captain Hindsight! If you liked this but want some proper career advice, I would point you towards Careercake TV.  It’s founder, @Aimee_Bateman has won several national awards and I don’t believe there is anyone better. Her recent talk at TEDxClapham talk speaks for itself… Enjoy!

An open letter to journalist Martin Robbins

Hi Martin,

I’ve just come across an article called ‘The Trouble with TED Talks‘ that you wrote for the new statesman a few years back and thought I’d drop you a line. I am the curator of TEDxClapham and we had our first event in January under the theme ‘Creating Change’.

We received some stick from those that thought a TEDx event in Clapham was a step too far; which is probably something to do with the abundance of red chinos and the infamous night life that Clapham is often associated with. On a larger scale, there is talk on the internet that too many licenses are being handed out and that TED/TEDx talks have become diluted.

It took me 18 months and countless rejections to get my license, so while I don’t agree with the initial point, I do think the second one links to your article where you mention that many TED/TEDx talks lack substance. I agree with you to an extent, which is why our event set out to challenge this notion and show Clapham in a more positive light.

Our first talk is now online and thought you might like to see it. To give you some context, the speaker is sending the talk to key decision-makers in several European governments, NATO and Interpol prior to face to face meetings with them over the next few weeks. She is hoping to use the talk to help put serious pressure on them regarding issues in terrorism finance at the moment.

Hopefully it shows that when approached correctly, TED/TEDx talks can be used as an aid to help create positive change on a global scale.

Any comments, suggestions and feedback would be gratefully received. I look forward to hearing from you,

Alex