Happy spring/autumn, everyone! Please excuse my slightly tardy post. I’ve been holed up in my room sick this week and dealing with all the fun stuff that comes along with that. So I’m a little late to the party, but better late than never.
The best part of this month was getting to host the North America Leadership Tour 2020 delegation at Outfit. As many of you know, I originally came to the US in 2018 as Co-Director of what was then called the US Leadership Tour. Our 16-person delegation attended meetings with over 30 organisations from Facebook to the Federal Reserve Bank to learn about different career pathways. I set myself a goal of moving on our last night in New York. It took about two years to make it happen, so it was really special to be able to come full circle by sharing my story with the 2020 group.
I put together a 30-minute presentation followed by a Q&A session. In my presentation, I talked about my background as well as the work I do at Outfit. I also set out my top three pieces of advice for anyone who might be interested in making a similar transition. I’d love to do a whole separate post on this topic, but here is a brief summary for now.
1. Create the opportunities you want
This is my number one piece of advice. In New Zealand, tall poppy syndrome encourages us to follow a linear path. We’re supposed to do well in school, get a good job, buy a house and have 2.5 kids. People who don’t conform can be looked down upon, even if they are successful or passionate about something else.
This can make it hard to be different. I used to just sort of hope my distant dreams would one day fall into place until eventually I realised that I would have to actually proactively do something about them.
To create the opportunities you want, I recommend starting with a clear goal of what you want to achieve. My goal when I first moved to New York was to find a job in business, but the more specific you can be, the better. Articulating that you want to land a job in the Legal department at Twitter would give you a greater shot at success.
A useful step two is to make a strategic plan for how you are going to achieve your goal. I like to create an annual plan every year where I draw a table breaking down the months and bullet point out what I’m going to do every month to move towards my goal. Each weekend, I take a few minutes to review my monthly actions and write in my diary what I will specifically do that week. This gives me a solid roadmap, keeps me accountable and helps me to feel in control of my life.
2. Get really good at networking
In my opinion, networking is essential in the US. Most jobs don’t even get advertised and are staffed exclusively through referrals. Having a fantastic professional network is key to getting a job as well as helping you to excel in it.
Unfortunately, Kiwis tend to dislike networking or find it unnatural. We are generally humble people, which can make networking seem artificially transactional. Here are five strategies I’ve learned that make networking easier:
Identify people you already have something in common with. People are often happy to help when they can see you’ve got something in common, such as studying at the same university or both being Kiwi expats.
Make your ask specific. Asking someone if they’d be willing to chat for 30 minutes about what it’s like working at the World Bank because you’re considering a policy career will probably elicit a better response than simply asking to talk.
Keep it appropriate. The primary purpose of networking is usually for information and advice, so don’t ask for a job outright.
Prepare thoroughly. Research the person you’re meeting with and plan questions to ask them. Not only does this show them that you value their time, it can also help with nerves to have a plan.
Always follow up. Send a timely thank you note and continue the relationship by engaging with the person online or in real life.
3. Build a strong personal brand
Along with networking, I believe developing a strong personal brand is key to standing out. It isn’t enough to have qualifications, skills or achievements. You have to be able to communicate them effectively.
In my view, LinkedIn is an excellent tool for communicating your personal brand. It’s usually the first place that people go to research you, so you can use it to shape their narrative and influence how they see you. Create an ‘extra’ LinkedIn profile by writing a compelling bio and fleshing out your work experience with quantifiable examples of what you achieved.
The next step is to post regular content. Dare to think outside the box when it comes to this. One of the most unexpectedly useful tactics I tried when I was job-hunting was creating my one-minute pitch video on LinkedIn. I explained who I was, what I’d done and what I wanted to do. I thought I’d be lucky if maybe 50 people watched it, but it ended up being seen by more than 10,000 and I got multiple job offers out of it. A little creativity goes a long way!
Those are my top three tips that I shared with the NALT delegation. Aside from that, I’ve also been up to some other fun stuff at Outfit. My team have been on a sales bender bringing in lots of cool new clients to work with. My personal favourite for February would probably be Frieze: a contemporary art fair showcasing works from 50+ artists in NYC, LA, London and Berlin. We worked with Frieze LA to put together a VIP hosting team for events with Prada and Louis Vuitton.
Whenever new brands come on board like this, my role is to make sure they have the right talent for their events. I feel like the master matchmaker because there are hundreds of eager talent to choose from and the criteria can vary dramatically between clients. I have to think strategically about who fits where and how that calculation could be digitised using technology. The talent I hired for Frieze got picked up by the LA Times for their work, which was a major highlight of the month!
Some personal stuff has been going on in the background outside of work. I have just started the process of applying for a new visa and am feeling the weight of the anxiety that comes along with that. It’s scary to think there’s a risk of my application being unsuccessful, even though I know that everything is probably going to be okay in the end.
I’m determined to make the most of the time I have left on my current visa in the meantime. I ticked two things off my New York bucket list this month: visiting Central Park Zoo and seeing Mean Girls on Broadway. I love doing activities like this because they make me feel like I’m visiting New York for the first time. There is nothing quite like catching yourself smiling in the street thinking, “holy shit, I’m in New York!” I hope I never lose sight of that feeling.