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Sarah Ellis, Co-founder, Amazing If

The pandemic has brought both change and uncertainty to the world of work. As a result, many professionals are feeling unsure about their career paths and how best to take the next steps in their professional journeys. So today we’re joined by Sarah Ellis, Co-founder of the professional training and consultancy business, Amazing If. Sarah is here to provide her expert advice to those who are experiencing a change in their careers.

1. To begin with, please could you give a quick introduction for our listeners?


(01:17) My name’s Sarah, I’m the founder of a company called Amazing If, and everything that we do is really focused on our ambition to democratise career development. We want career development to be available for everyone, whether that’s bookspodcastsfree resources or the work that we do with organisations to make development part of the day-to-day. We do lots of different things, but it’s all very much with that in mind, with this idea of how we can really think about our own careers and development.

Prior to Amazing If, the majority of my experience has been working in large organisations, so places like BarclaysBoots and Sainsbury’s. I spent the majority of my career in those very big organisations and I now work in a very small organisation that’s my own. So, I did quite a few big career changes myself.

2. You’re the host of The Squiggly Careers Podcast and author of the Sunday Times bestselling book, The Squiggly Career. Could you explain to our listeners what you mean by the term ‘squiggly career’?


(02:24) So, certainly when I started my career I thought it was all about climbing a ladder and often that ladder analogy is used when we’re describing our careers and it’s all about taking the next step and that feels quite linear, predictable, and perhaps we know what we’re doing and where we’re heading next. And I think, I started to feel in my own career and with the people I was working with, was were going “that doesn’t feel like a relevant or useful way to describe our careers”. We were perhaps moving to different departments, across different industries and around that time (2013), there was some research which showed that on average we’re going to have four or five different types of career during our working life.

So today, I think our careers are characterised by change, uncertainty, transition and ambiguity, probably never more so than right now and I’m sure we’re going to talk a bit about that. And I think what we wanted to reflect by just calling it the ‘squiggly career’ was that there is no such thing as a straight line to success anymore. And, for anyone who looks like that’s what’s happened, often when you dig into it we’ve all had squiggles along the way. Some squiggles that we perhaps been more in control of, some that have perhaps happened to us. And our careers now are just so much more dynamic, they’re much more about exploring different possibilities rather than kind of staying on the same ladder the whole time.

So, we’re not saying that that means they’re stress-free and all these squiggles are just so creative and freeing the whole time. I still think they can be overwhelming, quite anxiety inducing and unpredictable at times, but it does feel like a more useful way to think about what is this thing that when we say career, what do we mean? And I think for most people now whether you say, “Does your career feel more like climbing a ladder or does it feel more like navigating a squiggle?” Most people I think now go; “Well, yes, it feels a bit more squiggly for me”.

3. Would you say now due to the pandemic that careers will become to use the term even more ‘squiggly’ or more common as we enter this new era of work?


(04:47) I think what we’re observing is some of the trends that were probably already happening are accelerating due to the pandemic. So, we recognise that how we’re all working has changed because we’ve been forced to change how we’re working. I don’t think any of us would have designed it in the way that we’re working right now, but it has given us an opportunity to really think about how we should and how we could all work.

And I think one of the things that we talk a lot about with ‘squiggly careers’ is that there’s no one-size fits all. It’s not about following in the footsteps of what people have done previously. It’s really working out for yourself and in a much more personalised way, “What motivates and drives me? How do I work at my best? What does my working week look like in a way where I can do my best work and really spend my time well?”

So, I think how we’re working is never going to be the same and I think one of the good things that could come out of the pandemic is a much more personalised approach to how we’re working that reflects all of our different nature’s, personalities and different responsibilities. So, hopefully a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

I think a couple of the other things that are interesting is we’ve talked for a while about how progression now in organisations can’t only mean promotion and I think probably as organisations are having to adapt very rapidly, just seeing progression as so many more opportunities. Particularly as organisations are predominantly becoming flatter, how can we redefine progression to feel really motivating for people? Is it progression in terms of trying out new departments or disciplines? Is it about what we’re learning?

And I think that’s the other thing that’s interesting is that re-skilling is going to be relevant for everybody. The World Economic Forum estimate that 42% of the skills that we have right now won’t be relevant by 2022, which feels quite scary when you think, “How do I work out which are the 60% that are going to stay relevant and the 40% that are not,” but I think it’s less binary than that of course. It’s much more about, we’re all going to need to get very used to a growth mindset and a beginner’s mindset to adapt, to starting from scratch and just being very open to learning.

And I think we’re probably all more adaptable than we’ve given ourselves credit for. And I’ve seen so many examples of that through the pandemic of people learning new skills, helping each other, adapting brilliantly to sometimes what have been incredibly difficult circumstances. And again, that’s one of the things that I think, and hope is here to stay, is this idea of always learning, always adapting and always re-skilling so that we can do what we’re best at, use our strengths and solve the problems that our teams and our organisations need us to.

4. How do you think people are generally feeling about their careers at the moment? What are the most common concerns, challenges, and questions that people have been raising with you over the past few months?


(07:53) The first thing that we’ve noticed is whenever we’re talking to our community, whether that’s on Instagram or through the podcast, people feel like they need more support in their career right now, perhaps than ever before. And I think that probably goes hand in hand with more uncertainty and perhaps struggling a bit with confidence. So, I think people feeling that they need some more support, whether that’s from their managers, from their organisations or just taking the initiative and thinking, how I can do this for myself. And all career development should start with the individual I believe, so people taking ownership is a really positive thing.

I do think people are feeling a bit stuck, so perhaps you’ve got plans to change careers, do something different or you’re hoping to get promoted or progress into a different team and maybe that feels like it’s on hold, so that can feel frustrating or a bit disappointing for people. And then we have seen even in the midst of people perhaps struggling a bit with confidence, feeling stuck or things not quite turning out in the way that they’d hoped, we do still see a lot of optimism with all the people and organisations that we work with.

We’ve seen lots of examples of people connecting in new ways, people adapting and using their strengths to find innovative solutions. We’ve seen a lot of kindness, we’ve seen people looking after each other, and getting a window into the world of the people that we work with that we wouldn’t otherwise have had because of the way that we’ve all been working. Whenever we talk to people, you’re not going, “I’m either really struggling or really optimistic”, I think most of us are feeling kind of simultaneously this mix of emotions where there is some kind of optimism, but perhaps there’s some struggling with confidence and perhaps feeling a bit stuck and everybody’s circumstances of course are personal to them, but they’re probably two or three of the main things that we’ve seen consistently from our community certainly.

5. You mentioned uncertainty and change which seems like a common trend and it’s completely understandable. Some may be experiencing redundancy, restructure or uncertainty around how their current role might look going forward. What advice do you have for listeners to help them navigate this kind of unexpected change?


(10:13) I think change that happens to us is different to when we have instigated change. All change is hard. As much as we’re all trying to get used to it being a common feature of our careers, it still is difficult, but particularly when we hadn’t anticipated that change and we are not prepared for it, can feel particularly tough. And so, I think just recognising that it is okay to find it tough.

We hear people talking about how during an average career, we’re probably going to experience some sort of restructure or redundancy perhaps two or three times, I think the average stat is. Certainly, that’s been my experience so far and I’m probably twenty years into my career and I’ve been through at least a couple of restructures, at least two redundancy kind of experiences myself and yet that’s probably not that unusual, but just because it’s not unusual doesn’t necessarily make it easy.

I think the first thing that I’d really encourage people to do when you’re going through those times of real uncertainty and this can feel hard, but don’t forget to ask for help. Sometimes when we’re at our most vulnerable, perhaps it’s when we’re least likely to reach out to other people or connect and ask for help, but it’s often when we need that help the most. And asking for help is a sign of strength, not of weakness and don’t forget that people, in my experience, really enjoy helping other people. It’s often a favourite part of somebody’s week, if you’ve gone to someone and said, “Oh, I’d really like some help. I’m thinking about exploring this industry because my industry’s been really impacted by the pandemic. So perhaps my world has been made redundant, so I feel like my skills might be relevant, but perhaps don’t know enough about it. Can you give me some insights? Can you tell me what strengths might be useful?” So, I think asking for help is probably the first thing.

If you are someone who struggles to ask for help, try and just be as specific as you can, and I think that gives you a little bit more confidence. So, think about what help do you need, what questions would you like answered and who can help you. Try and make a list of who are all the people that can help you and remember, no one has a monopoly on wisdom, there’s always more than one person who can help you so don’t worry if someone says no, or just doesn’t respond, don’t take that personally, there’s always somebody else. And then why is that person the right person? So what help do you need? Who can help you and why do you think that person can be helpful? And then that allows you to ask someone for help in a more specific way where someone is very clear about what the help is that you need, so I always think help that person to help you.

I got very good at this because I once sat down with somebody who was very kindly mentoring me, a brilliant woman called Cilla Snowball with an unforgettable name. I know Cilla very well now, but when I first met her nine or ten years ago, we’d grab a coffee in the days where you could do that face-to-face, and I remember within about a minute she just said to me very directly, “Right, Sarah, I’m here to help. How can I help you?” And I think I’d not done enough thinking beforehand on how to answer that question and yes, I was probably a bit nervous and I was like, oh maybe I should just build the relationship a bit and I’m an introvert so I certainly found meeting new people quite nerve wracking, but I think that taught me a really valuable lesson of being prepared about letting people help you and knowing what help that you need. And I’ve been much better at it ever since that meeting and luckily Cilla was very forgiving and continued to mentor me, but I think I learned a good lesson that day. So, that’s about getting other people to help you in those hard moments.

The other thing I would say that can be helpful when there’s lots of stuff that feels out of your control is – and that can feel really overwhelming and there can be lots of different factors and you’re trying to anticipate the future, which is always really hard today – think about what is the smallest simplest action that you can take today. So, break down what can feel like lots of things to sort out, perhaps you’re thinking I need to sort my LinkedIn profile out. I need to sort my CV out. I need to reconnect with people and build my network and all these things can be going on in your mind and you can think I’m not sure where to start.

And I think the best advice in those moments is always just to start, just to do something small. So, if all you do today is update your summary on your LinkedIn page, then that’s one good action. You’re one step further forward than you were yesterday. If you reconnect with a couple of previous managers today and that’s the one thing that you managed to get done that’s really good progress and just recognise that that’s the best way to make progress is lots of small, simple actions. And broadly remember that within careers generally, it’s all about exploring possibilities rather than being kind of anchored to one specific plan. So even if right now things don’t feel like they’re working out in the way that you’d hoped, there will always be more opportunities in the future to keep exploring the things that you’re curious about.

So, don’t feel like in that moment that everything that you’d hoped for has disappeared. Of course, we always have compromises and choices to make, but just remember that broader context and sometimes that can help you to go, “I’m going to take the smallest, simplest action I can do today and I’m going to remember that I’ve still got, for most of us, another thirty years to work or perhaps I’m never going to retire”. And, when you change that lens, sometimes that can be quite useful and quite motivating.

Excellent advice, especially around the importance of seeking advice from others and it not being seen as a weakness. It’s often an underused resource, the advice of other people so thank you for that. 

6. Also, you mentioned at the start about change being different if you initiate it yourself. So, for instance, if you are initiating that change yourself perhaps by finding a new role or changing careers entirely, do you think now is a good time to do this and what advice can you share to help our listeners?


(16:13) Well, I don’t think there’s ever a perfect time. I think career change is something that always sounds like it’s going to be a really dramatic change, but in reality, from most people I know who have successfully made career changes, it’s not something that happens overnight, and from my own experiences the first thing I’d really suggest people consider is try before you buy essentially. So, the more you can experiment, explore and dip your toes into the world that you’re hoping to move into, the better. I think it gives you a few advantages;

  • Firstly, you can start to build really helpful relationships.
  • Secondly, you can start to figure out, do my assumptions about this area that I’m really interested in match the reality? So perhaps I thought my strengths would be useful in this team or in this business in a certain way, does my expectation match the reality of what I’m hearing? So, it’s a really good opportunity to do lots of listening.

And certainly, if there are any opportunities to be involved in networks or volunteering for side projects that are part of the world that you’re hoping to move towards, that can also be incredibly useful. So, for example, we started Amazing If in 2013, but it wasn’t really even a business at that point. It was just something that we were interested in. So, until that point our background had been in more marketing and innovation, myself and my co-founder Helen Tupper. And side projects didn’t even exist, the word didn’t even exist at that moment which makes me feel old, but we just spotted an opportunity. We felt that career development needed to be available to everybody, not just the fortunate few and we wanted to deliver that development in a way that made use of interesting technology that existed. That was from a practitioner perspective rather than perhaps an academic perspective that took those academic ideas and that research and made it practical and really useful.

So, at that point we hadn’t got an idea where we were thinking, “I want to move into the world of learning and development right now”. We were just thinking that we’re really curious about it and then the more we progressed in Amazing If, the more we got closer to trying before we were buying. And there were a few things we were trying. We were trying, what does the world of learning and development look like? Do we feel like we can be useful in that world? Do our strengths feel like they would be helpful for the problems that that world is trying to solve? So, that was one area of exploring.

The other area was what it will feel like to run our own business. So, we were both really scared of that. We both worked in big organisations where you’ve got lots of structures and systems around you. Helen had worked at Microsoft and Virgin, I’d been in Barclays and Sainsbury’s, and we’d also really enjoyed those environments, so it wasn’t like we were running as fast as we could away from more of a corporate world. We were very happy in those worlds, but equally we’re really passionate about this problem we were trying to solve around career development, and so that was one of the things that we were trying out.

So, for example, I started to work a four-day week at Sainsbury’s, so I could spend one day a week on Amazing If and again, this is a few years ago where that wasn’t as typical as it is today. A four-day week wasn’t as typical, and it certainly wasn’t typical when you hadn’t got kids or caring responsibilities. I have now got a kid, but certainly at that time, I didn’t and so that felt quite a brave thing to ask my organisation to support me to have a day trying out my own business, spending more time on that. And, for them to feel like that wasn’t me stepping away from my commitment to my organisation, which it wasn’t. I was still very committed to my role at Sainsbury’s. I was lucky that I had a very progressive boss who I think could see that actually she got four days of the best of me and she would rather have that than not have me for one day, then perhaps me feeling a bit distracted or just wishing and having this little niggle that I’d like a little bit more time to experiment with some of my own stuff.

So, anything that you can do to try things out and to get that little bit closer to that change you’re trying to make, I always think is a really smart thing to do, and don’t be discouraged if the more you discover, the less that you want to make that change. I’ve also been through that process of thinking. I remember early in my marketing career, I was really adamant that the next thing I wanted to do was make TV adverts and I thought that feels like the real obvious next step for me. And the more I explored the reality of what that role involved in an organisation, the more I figured out, actually, I’m not going to be the right person for this role. What these roles need is not what I’m good at and I hadn’t really understood that world, and I’m so glad that I could then let that go and think that perhaps I thought that was a possibility, but that doesn’t feel like the right thing for me, perhaps there’s something different. And interestingly, the people that I spoke to as part of that exploring then actually did offer me a role that was in the same team, but quite a different sort of role that was much better suited to my strengths and the things that I really enjoyed.

So, I never think those conversations are wasted and you don’t have to go and have those conversations asking for a job. You can just have curious career conversations where you can say, tell me what does a typical week look like? What do you spend your time doing? What sort of skills are really helpful in your industry or in your team? What kind of problems are you trying to solve? Just asking those very open questions I think is really useful, so I think those transitions definitely take time which might not be what people sometimes want to hear, because maybe someone wants to make a change quite quickly, but I think the more you can try stuff out, take small steps to get close to that world and just build as many relationships as you can, because you never know what opportunities are out there.

And I think often once you start saying things out loud, it’s amazing how things start to happen. So, once I started to talk more about my ambition to run my own company and to make that change, it’s amazing how people start introducing you to people who they think could be helpful, or they start asking you some really good questions and suddenly it becomes more of a reality than it was a month or two months ago.

7. You mentioned earlier the importance of having the confidence to make a change. But touching on career confidence more generally, it appears many are experiencing a lot of self doubt right now, understandably, regardless of their situation. Would you agree with that and how can listeners build themselves back up if they’re experiencing this?


(22:53) So, I would agree. I think unfortunately, and probably naturally, the pandemic has meant that there has been an incredible amount of change in what is quite a short space of time and so we’ve all had to deal with a whole new level of unpredictability and changing our personal and professional lives. So, most of us have had a double whammy of so much around us, all kind of changing simultaneously and within our communities and world at large, so it’s been an awful lot for people to absorb and to adapt to. So, if you are struggling with career confidence that’s completely natural. All of us have had some career confidence crises over the past four or five months. I know certainly I have, it’s an interesting time to be running your own business in the middle of a pandemic and it’s a hard time to be in a big organisation that’s probably having to adapt quickly. So yes, everyone is having a tough time.

One very practical thing you can do if you’re personally struggling a little bit with your own confidence is do an exercise that we often recommend in our workshops called very small successes. And we’re often really good at remembering our big moments of success, so perhaps the thing that’s gone right in the last twelve months or the last couple of years and we’re really proud of that work, but we’re not so good at spotting all the very small successes that we have day in, day out because we move on quickly, we’re all really busy and they could pass us by.

And so, if you are struggling with confidence, perhaps at the end of every day for at least eight days because that gets you into a bit of a rhythm with doing this, just write down one very small success you’ve had that day, personal or professional. It could be finishing that presentation that you’ve been procrastinating over. It could be getting your toddler to eat some peas for the first time. It can be anything, any very small success and don’t forget all the examples of how you help other people to succeed as well, and I bet you every day, everyone here listening will have helped someone in some small way.

So, very small successes can feel quite hard if I said, “Can you think of one right now?”, but once you start to get into the rhythm and the routine of doing it, most of us spot that we have at least one, if not more than one very small success every day. And this just helps I think to build our resilience and confidence and to have that view of reality of, yes, there are some tough things or maybe some things not going to plan or you’re perhaps not feeling really confident right now, but those very small successes encourage us to reflect on and remind ourselves of the progress that we are still making and it helps us to feel optimistic.

We always feel like optimism is just a personality trait. You’re either a glass half full or a glass, half empty person, but we can learn to be optimistic. So, all the positive psychology tells us that actually a brilliant way to be optimistic is to reflect and record our successes and even better, if you can share them with a team or if you can do something like this at work. So, sometimes the teams that we work with, we encourage them to do what we call Wednesday win of the week, where every Wednesday, everybody in a team just shares one win they’ve had in the last week. Again, personal or professional, so it’s a week long version of our very small successes we’ve just talked about, and in that moment it just helps everybody to pause and reflect, to celebrate everybody else’s successes and it gives us a moment of feeling good about ourselves and even if a team or business is having a hard time, perhaps you’re lacking confidence as a group, just sharing those wins of the week can be really helpful. And again, it just helps us to feel optimistic about the progress that we’re making.

My final point on career confidence is about your strengths. So, sometimes our career confidence can be impacted by career comparison, and it’s never been easier to compare your career to other people. Whether that’s the shiny successes that we see popping up on LinkedIn or you’re following people on Instagram, we often see what’s on the shiny surface and we perhaps don’t see all the messiness that lies underneath, and I promise you that everybody has that messiness it’s just sometimes less visible. And so, focusing on you, what you do well, what your strengths are and how you can really develop your own strengths is definitely a good route to feeling confident about ourselves and about the value that we add.

My co-founder, Helen Tupper, her best piece of career advice to people is always to run their own race and I think that’s really worth remembering. When your confidence is low, you’re much more likely to fall into the comparison trap and we all do it, but it’s those moments that we really want to think about what are our strengths? What are we good at and how can we do more of those things? The more we use our strengths the more we enjoy our work, the more value that we add. It’s always a win-win.

That’s great advice. I really like what you said about documenting those small wins and reminding yourselves of that but sharing them with colleagues as well.

8. And probably linked to the last question for those who are currently in full-time employment, who are no doubt extremely busy dealing with the day-to-day and perhaps feel under pressure to somehow prove their worth. What advice would you give those listeners who are perhaps dealing with that?


(28:15) It’s a good observation because we have seen this pressure especially when you’ve got people who’ve perhaps who’ve been furloughed and maybe you’ve not, and you feel like you really have to prove your worth. And again, that’s kind of hard for people. I think a good place to start is if you are feeling pressured to prove your worth or the worth of your role is not to start with you, it’s to start with your team or your organisation. It’s almost kind of starting with empathy and figuring out what are the problems we’re trying to solve? What are the problems my team are trying to solve? What are the problems my organisation is trying to solve? And then do a bit of situational strength mapping. So, take those problems and think about your strengths as we were talking about previously, and figure out how your strengths can be useful to solve the problems that are the real priorities right now and how are they relevant? How are they helpful?

And essentially, it’s really about adapting our strengths, so they show up and stand out in a way that helps to solve the problems that are really top of mind for our teams or organisations at the moment. And I think when you connect those problems and your strengths together, that’s when you get the real value and your value becomes very obvious and evident. It also shows that you’ve really thought beyond yourself on what are we really struggling with? What are our challenges? And I don’t think anyone’s job descriptions now particularly last beyond applying for roles. We’ve all got very used to needing to be adaptable, needing to change our roles depending on what the priorities are that week or month, and I think if you can be proactive, take the initiative with that problem-solving and do a bit of what we often call either job crafting or job redesign and bring those two things together, spotting how those things can connect, really demonstrates how useful you are.

One of my career changes that I made is moving from marketing to be Head of Corporate Responsibility for Sainsbury’s and I went into that job full of ideas, innovation, strategic thinking and ready to build some brilliant relationships, all the things that I’m naturally good at and the kind of strengths that I want to be known for. And I remember thinking initially, really struggling a little bit and thinking that I feel like my strengths are not really showing up and I’m not sure I’ve made the right decision here. And the bit that I’d missed was, I’d not really thought about the problems that that role was trying to solve at that moment in time, and a lot of the problems were perhaps different to what I’d anticipated. They were more about some things we needed to sort out about reporting and governance, and some of those areas that I needed to then really think about was how I can use my strengths to solve those problems. And I think I was trying to solve the problems that I quite fancied solving rather than the ones that mattered the most and the priorities.

And once I switched, I was having an internal battle with myself and I felt like I was failing a bit and I wasn’t proving my worth to go back to your question. And then I remember a really pivotal conversation with my manager at the time where I said, “I just feel like I’m not doing a very good job and maybe I’m not the right person for this job.” And actually, she was like, “No, you’re doing brilliantly. I think we just need to think more creatively about what it is that you have to offer, but also what matters at the moment.” And I think once I reframed really that job and myself in that job, suddenly I felt a load better at that role when I could really think about how could I apply my creativity to what we were trying to do with reporting, – which I promise you, you can still be creative in the reporting world – and started to be really positive about connecting those two things together. I started to enjoy that job loads more, I started to add a lot more value in that job and so it’s a really valuable process to go through. So, I hope that was clear and I hope that makes sense.

It certainly does, thanks so much for those insights. I’ve no doubt those will greatly help our listeners who are experiencing those issues at the moment.

9. Do you think this is an especially difficult time for those whose identities are very closely linked to their job?


(32:37) Yes, I think it’s always tough when our identity is really wrapped up in the work that we do, which to be clear I think is probably most of us now. We’re all fortunate enough usually to do jobs that are a big part of who we are, how we learn, how we develop. Very few of us go to work now only for a salary because there’s much more to the way that we work now than there was even fifty years ago, and so I think it’s not a bad thing to really care about the work that you do. And we spend a lot of time at work, with the people that we work with and doing that work so we want to ascribe meaning to that. We want our work to matter to us and to be having a positive impact.

I think it’s recognising whether your identity is wrapped up in an organisation or perhaps in something else. Those things are things you can’t control versus is your identity wrapped up in personal purpose and meaning, in which case you can take that with you. You can take that with you from team-to-team, from role-to-role from organisation-to-organisation. Whereas, if your identity is really linked only to let’s say a certain leader or to a certain organisation, those things are out of your control, that leader can leave. That organisation can make you redundant. Those things can be really hard, but they’re also realities and I think it’s almost working out which bits of identity are really important to you and I think if you can make it about you and the positive impact you’re hoping to make in your career, then I think that feels much more freeing and hopefully more useful.

So, for me, the thing I’m really attached to in terms of my identity is this point around making career development available, accessible to everyone, regardless of role, industry or what level you are at in your career, and that’s the thing that’s really important to me. Now, do I want Amazing If to succeed? Of course, I do. It’s 50% my company and we put a lot of time and effort into it, but let’s say it doesn’t work out and lots of small businesses don’t, I am really attached to Amazing If and I’d obviously be disappointed, and I’d be really sad, but I think I’ve got much more meaning in the why. The why we’re doing what we’re doing, and I think I could find that why in other places. I could go and work in an organisation in learning and development and still take that meaning with me. I could do something different. I could start again in a different business and still take that meaning with me. So, just think about what is that identity linked to and the closer you can make it to yourself and the impact you’re trying to make, the more it’s both positive and probably protects you from changes that you can’t control.

10. A lot analysis and reporting has focused on the fact that young people are being badly hit by the pandemic from a career and employment point of view. How can those that are about to begin their journey into the world of work, ensure that they start out on the right foot despite these hurdles?


(35:57) Well, we talked a few times today about the importance of adaptability and I think if you’re starting work right now, whether you’re coming out of school, university or college, you would have had to been really adaptable this year. So, really focus on what you have got and worry less about what you haven’t got. So, you will have learned to be really adaptable, you will be able to bring fresh eyes and new perspective to that role or to that organisation. When I was at Sainsbury’s, I used to sometimes do listening groups that I’d call fresh eyes feedback and they were always with people who were new to the organisation who could just give us a different perspective or could see things that we’d been doing because we just got so used to doing them and would question them in a really useful way.

So, anyone who’s new to a team or an organisation always has that opportunity to add value just by the sense of being new. Being new and maybe not being as experienced is not a bad thing. It’s just a different thing and so I think just remembering that and thinking about what every role and what every organisation needs right now. They need people who are confident and comfortable using technology and I would suggest that most people starting work right now, probably digital natives, are very used to using different technologies so perhaps that’s an opportunity to teach other people. Just because you are a beginner maybe at work doesn’t mean that you’re a beginner in every aspect of what’s needed in those roles. And I can imagine that there’ll be lots of people, for example, in work today who perhaps are hearing about TikTok but have got no idea what it is. So perhaps that’s something that you can help people to learn about. People are often really curious to learn more.

So, I just think, spot those opportunities to learn. Don’t worry too much about what you haven’t got and just think about who you can learn from if you’re starting right now, I think is the thing I worried about the most about when I started my career and the people I’ve worked with are subsequently starting out. There are those informal incidental conversations that you overhear that you’re perhaps not part of, but you learn a lot from. You just hear what’s on people’s mind or you’re making a cup of tea, and you have those chats and obviously at the moment that just doesn’t exist in the same way that it has previously and so I think we must work harder to have those informal conversations, those getting to know you chats.

If you’re starting work, and you can feel confident enough to do this, just spending ten to fifteen minutes a week, with someone in your organisation just being really curious. Just asking questions like “What does your job involve?” and being really interested and learning as much as you can from as many different people. Don’t feel like you need to just stick in your role or stick in your team. I always think the first five to ten years of your career it’s just all about getting as many different experiences as you can. Learning as much as you can from as many different people and getting as many different perspectives and then you start to really figure out what you’re good at and the value that you can add. And so, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and just be really curious I think would probably be my ultimate top tip for people starting out.

Thanks Sarah, it’s really great to hear you talk about the importance of everybody’s experience and being able to learn from that. Even those entering the workforce, they all have different experiences and it’s important that we have a grasp of that.

11. Lastly, if you had one piece of advice on top of all the great advice that you’ve given us today to help our listeners navigate their careers through the pandemic and beyond, what would that be?


(39:46) Well, my best piece of career advice that I often share is to never live the same year twice. Now that’s taken on a whole new meaning this year because I don’t think many of us want to live this year again, so I certainly think that we’ll all be quite pleased to probably move on from 2020. But I do think remembering this idea that you can do the same job, obviously for more than one year, and you can stay in careers for long periods of time, but to basically always be learning, always be a work in progress. There’ll be no point where you’ll suddenly be done so the more that you can make learning just part of who you are and how you work, I think the better equipped you will be to have a really successful squiggly career.


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Sarah is the co-founder of Amazing If, an award-winning career development company with a mission to make work better for everyone.  She is co-author of The Squiggly Career (Penguin) and host of the careers podcast: Squiggly Careers.

Prior to Amazing If Sarah’s career included leadership roles at Barclays and Sainsbury’s before becoming Managing Director at Gravity Road, a creative company that is part of the You & MrJones group.

Sarah is an alumnus of Harvard, London and Warwick Business Schools (MBA), a qualified professional coach and a mental health first aider. In 2017 she also featured in the Timewise Power Part-time list.



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