Because of the changes and uncertainties that this year has brought, I found myself in a situation where I needed to find a new job. While being in this position can induce a range of emotions, I quickly learned that the in-between time was not something to be feared: In fact, the break from my normal day-to-day work was the perfect opportunity to recalibrate and plan out what I wanted from my next career move. Here are some of the things that I’ve done to set myself up over the last few months, as well as a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I’ve been working in Product Development and Product Management for many years and have worn several hats at companies across different industries, including telecoms, travel and other start-up industries.
My career thus far has certainly been an exciting one and I’m lucky to be in an industry where there are so many opportunities for growth and career development. However, like many other people around the world this year, my last company underwent a restructuring process and I found myself needing a new job.
Although this uncertainty can be hard, I’ve learned over the last few months that this is where the greatest rewards can be found too.
Shifting my perspective from “I’m stuck in a void with all this time on my hands” to “This time off is a huge opportunity” is the best thing I’ve ever done for my career advancement.
Over the last few months, these are the four things that I have focused on doing to set myself up for success:
- Defining what I want in my next job
- Learning and networking
- Showcasing my skill set
- Investing time in personal things
Here’s why I’ve found these things useful and how I’ve approached doing them.
Defining what I want from my next job
When you’re looking for a new job, it’s normal to pursue opportunities wherever you can find them. In the Product and Tech space, there are often many roles available and while this can be reassuring, it can also be overwhelming – and nowadays very competitive too!
I’ve learned that spending proper time understanding where your values and skills lie is critical for making the right career decisions. By defining what inspires you and gives you energy, you’ll set yourself on the right path.
To help with this, I took a lifestyle design course where they encouraged us to experiment with opportunities before committing to them. Their advice was to invest more time into understanding what you want before taking the plunge, which was particularly useful on the days I felt most uncertain. It also helped me realise that I wanted to work for a company whose mission it is to make a real difference to the world in some way, and not just for a commercial machine.
There were three main streams that I made use of to see if my ‘ideal job’ matched with what was out there:
- Roles available at target companies that I was interested in
- Opportunities presented to me via job boards
- Recruitment agencies
To keep myself organised, I put together a spreadsheet that acts like a project plan. The thinking here was to have a central place where I could keep track of all of my thoughts, notes, contacts, links, communications and feedback.
When I can see everything mapped out, I’ve found that it makes it easier to trust that I’m making informed decisions about what I’m spending my time on or who I’m communicating with. This is important to keep ‘what I want’ at the forefront of my job search. It also keeps me engaged with the process because I can see the various moving parts and know when I need to take action.
Learning and networking
Everyone knows that staying up-to-speed is vital if you’re in the Product and Tech space. This means taking as many opportunities as you can to learn new skills and meet new people. Having had some time on my hands, this is something that I’ve poured a lot of energy into over the last few months.
With everything going online, the pandemic has filled the internet with more valuable resources and opportunities to connect with others than ever before. I’ve discovered a range of both free and paid-for Product training webinars, online courses and community discussion forums. Here are a few that I’ve found to be the most useful:
If you are in the Product space:
- Udemy and Coursera offer some very well-priced online courses for those who want to learn something completely new.
- I took a course on The Circular Economy and found it to be a useful way to learn how companies are adopting new business models.
I’ve also found that going remote has prompted learning facilities to think up new, innovative ways to engage with users, which has – for me – sparked a lot of inspiration. As a great example – I recently attended a ‘virtual breakfast’ where a company showcasing their product delivered breakfast to my door as a way for everyone to connect virtually!
Not only has engaging with these resources helped me keep up to speed with the latest Product best practices, but it’s also helped me meet new people and feel part of an ever-growing community.
Taking part in online activities has also helped me find out more about what job opportunities are available. Meeting new people – and even ‘bumping into’ old acquaintances – at online events has been a great way to hear what the job market looks like and where someone could potentially refer me. As the saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know, and from what I’ve learned this year, this is definitely true.
So, be brave and put yourself out there – reach out and say hi to someone at the next webinar you attend. You never know what doors it might help open for you.
Showcasing my skill set
Updating your CV and cover letter is standard practice when you’re looking for a new job. However, because their primary purpose is to relay surface-level information, most recruiters will tell you that these documents are quite boring to read. If yours aren’t original, it’s much harder to stand out.
I’ve found that spending a chunk of time thoughtfully updating my CV and putting together cover letters that will suit the different roles that I’m applying for really helps. For some positions, I’ve found the neat, succinct, no-more-than-350-words letter works best – for others, a colourful presentation that showcases some of my past projects or an example analysis to demonstrate problem solving skills is much more effective.
In my experience, black and white text never really allows you to express your potential. Making sure you can ‘be yourself’ is important if you want to set yourself on a career path that satisfies you.
If you can show a company who you are from your very first correspondence, you don’t have to worry about restricting yourself – either they like what you have to offer and give you the opportunity to do that, or they don’t and you move on.
However, understanding where you can stretch the boundaries and be creative with what you submit requires dedicated research: You need to know about the company’s position in the market, how you can help them achieve goals and resolve key problems, and what their culture is like, so that you can tailor your application to suit this. Striking the balance between what you can bring to the table and how this can benefit them will be what catches their eye.
Investing time in personal things
While I’ve been looking for my next opportunity, I’ve also made sure to spend time planning for the future and trying out new things with my family.
Life is more than just work, and taking the time to engage and reflect on my other priorities has helped me think about what I want next from a more wholesome perspective.
Some of the ‘non-professional’ things I’ve invested time in over the last few months include:
- Planning our wedding (with my fiancée!)
- Spending quality time with my son and family from the UK
- DIY projects
- Investigating the feasibility of extending our roof
- Reviewing pension funds
- Looking into stocks and shares trading
- Writing a will and other life admin tasks that I would otherwise never get around to
- Trying to learn how to improve my (poor!) guitar skills
- Enrolling in new classes at the gym
In closing, it’s been great to embrace the pause and make it work for me. After a few months of reflecting and taking practical steps to set myself up, I’ve realised working for a company whose mission is to make a real difference to the world is where I want to be. I’ve kept this realisation at the forefront of my job search and am currently in the final round interviews at a couple of great companies whose values and aspirations align with mine. Fingers crossed!
So, if I can share anything from what I’ve learned this year it’s to not give in to fear. Having time off between jobs is packed with opportunities – you just have to set yourself up well to find them, and then do what it takes to turn them into realities.
Simon is a Product Leader within e-commerce and subscription-based technology businesses. He specialises in leading teams to create highly valuable product experiences. In his spare time, when he’s not spending time with his young family, he enjoys playing guitar and taking long bike rides.