Your job, career or vocation is a huge part of your personal brand which means that when you start thinking about changing it, the question “does this fit my personal brand?” has to come into the equation. One woman who is trying to make this easier for us is occupational psychologist Lucy Standing, founder of job shadowing service and career change website ViewVO. I spoke to Lucy about how you can use job shadowing to help scope out whether a new job, career or starting a business is for you…
Tell us a little bit about you and the concept behind ViewVO?
I’m a psychologist by background. I used to run graduate recruitment for an investment bank and found interns we recruited were performing better than graduates – the key difference being interns had experienced working in the bank, so knew more about what to expect. Importantly, they weren’t just performing better, they were happier. It shouldn’t be a shock or surprise to anyone that we make better decisions about what we want to do when we experience it. I wanted to make it possible for more people to experience jobs they were thinking of doing because in a world where there is no ‘job for life’ anymore, the need to change jobs is going to increase, but there is still not enough practical help or opportunities to get access to this experience. ViewVo – which stands for ‘view a vocation’ is changing this.
This sounds like it’s a good way to tell if a job is authentically you…are there any things you should be looking for during your experience or questions you should be looking for or asking to help determine that?
Yes – as much as possible you want to use this as a chance to get as much information as you can. Being too prescriptive when every role is different is not helpful, but if we look at what the key things are that correlate with happiness in a role, we can see it’s helpful to ask questions around:
- How much autonomy there is in the role.
- What the barriers to entry real and unwritten.
- The income. I don’t ask any of my career mentors to share their income, but I do ask them to review and point all our clients in the right direction.
- The team/the social side of the work. One of the biggest drivers of the satisfaction we have at work is those we work with. If you’re applying for a straightforward role, I’d always ask to come and meet the rest of the team, shadow a day in the office/dial into a meeting. You’ll get a good sense of the atmosphere and what sort of level of informality there is.
- The main skills needed/the tools you need to use. People overestimate the value of knowledge and underestimate the value of skill. If you understand what knowledge is needed and what skills are useful (driven in some cases by the tools you’ll need to use) then you’re already in a better position to evaluate your strengths relative to the work.
- Related to autonomy is the flexibility/work life piece. This is such an important driver for most people, but it’s the area they feel least comfortable asking about during an interview. The reality behind the website or JD is so much more helpful than the sales picture often painted!
If you have little to no experience when entering a new job, what’s the best way to build confidence and not feel like an “imposter”?
You have to do it. You can power pose all you like and convince yourself to spend lots of money on coaching yourself into a confident mindset, but it won’t work. You need to accept at the beginning you won’t know it all and that’s not just OK, it’s normal. Your first attempt at peeling a potato was probably terrible. You improve over time. With things like jobs, which have a huge complexity of people, tasks, skills and knowledge, there is always a learning curve. You will not be as effective at the start as you will be once you’ve got your head around things. So in answer to your question, I’d say you will feel like an imposter, but why on earth is feeling like an imposter bad? If you’re new in a role, it’s the only way you will feel. It’s only when you’ve got stuck in and got your head around things, that you will start to feel more comfortable. Your discomfort is useful: when you feel exposed because you don’t have the knowledge, accept it and ask for help. If this is a new role and you have no experience, acting as though you do is inauthentic and looks ridiculous. Embrace your imposter!
If an employee would like to shadow a job of someone more senior in their organisation, what’s the best way to ask for that without sounding like you want to steal it away from them?
My response is to ask: do you want to steal it away from them? If you do, I think an honest approach is always best. The reality is, you may want to steal it away, but you don’t control that, so wanting it and getting it are two different things. An approach along the lines of: ‘I really want to do your job one day, but to work out if it would be right for me and to understand more about what I’m missing, it would be really helpful for me if I could shadow you at work’.
You also have to accept having someone shadow you is a complete hassle. There is very little in it for the person offering the shadowing and whilst many people are orientated to help others, what you are asking for is a big deal. On ViewVo I ask people to pay for the day to help compensate for the hassle factor. If it’s someone internally, then I wonder what else you could offer in return? Do you have a skill set you can offer to them as payment (e.g., proofreading a document, testing a website as a user, reviewing their recruitment interview questions). Whatever the skill set, the point is, you rarely get something for nothing. So acknowledge the hassle and think of how you can compensate others for this.
How best should an interested participant prepare for a shadowing opportunity, with you or otherwise?
I’d refer to the question above on thinking of the sort of areas you can ensure you get some coverage. If you are meeting a business owner, take a business plan with you (Virgin start up do a great one: https://www.virginstartup.org/how-to/virgin-startup-business-plan-template).
Before a shadowing opportunity, I always get everyone to start with a phone call, so the career expert gets time to get their head around what you most want information about. For example, I had a client who wanted a book published, so she wanted to shadow a book publisher. She spoke to him beforehand and when they met, he’d brought with him two other editors. He’d also asked her to send over a chapter before they met, so the meeting was then more focused on which sort of publishers she needed to approach and what changes she needed to make before she’d be ready to do that. It was a great way to make the time more productive.
What are some things you should consider reflecting on after your shadowing experience?
Most of the time, shadowing someone does inform your thinking. Even if it’s ‘I know I don’t want to do that’ you’ve moved forward massively. Knowing what you don’t like is almost as useful as knowing what you do. You should be prepared to be disappointed, but disappointment with an idea, is a heck of a lot more comfortable than feeling scared because you’ve just invested life savings into something you realise you don’t enjoy. As long as you are learning and gathering data, this is a valuable process. You should also be prepared for that big imposter. Remember, you won’t do a job you love. Over time, as you work more in a field of work, you develop skills and strengths which become and are unique. As your expertise develops, so does your confidence. The more entrenched you are with your work, the more you’ll feel a sense of ‘love’ and commitment. This is where you will end up – but it won’t be where you start.
Tell us a little about the charity side of ViewVo. Sustainability and charity is a big part of my brand so I’m always keen to hear how others incorporate that into their own brands…
I didn’t even start ViewVo until I got clearance from HMRC that organisations that use this can donate the funds to charity. When I started talking to potential mentors, it became clear that whilst not all of them wanted ‘paying’, they did want commitment and value from the person doing the shadowing. The mentors might not need the money, but if they knew a fee would be supporting a charity for example, this convinced many they’d want to get involved. Certainly, if I’m getting mentors from a larger corporate, they can’t ‘earn’ a fee on the side whilst working during employers hours. What they can do however, is a charity day/volunteer day. ViewVo gives them a chance to donate their time for free – but their fee is donated by ViewVo on their behalf to a charity of their choice. In effect, we are the first organisation who encourages a ‘give as you learn’ philosophy.