Welcome to the 16th episode of the Graduate Job Podcast.
This week I speak with career coach and best-selling author John Lees, as we cover the topic of how to get a job you love. John shares his expert advice on the steps you need to take to find a job and career which will excite you. He reveals the one trick that will change the way you look at networking, and a brilliant question to ask to make sure you don’t end up in a job you won’t enjoy. If you are a current student, or recently graduated but in a job you aren’t happy with, this is the episode for you.
MORE SPECIFICALLY IN THIS EPISODE YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The one trick which will change the way you look at networking
- The one question to ask to make sure you don’t end up in a job you will not like
- Where to start when you don’t know where to start
- How to know what you are good at
- The importance of the hidden job market
- Why you might be avoiding the job you love
- Whether you should settle for anything other than the ‘perfect’ job
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- How to Get a Job You Love – John’s excellent book and one of the 7 books I recommend every graduate should read (see episode 14). Click on the image below to buy from Amazon!
- The Interview Expert: How to Get the Job You Want
- Knockout CV: How to Get Noticed, Get Interviewed & Get Hired
- Take Control of Your Career
- Job Interviews: Top Answers to Tough Questions
- Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking
- John’s website – http://johnleescareers.com/
- Jon on Twitter – @Johnleescareers
- John’s website recommendation – http://icould.com/
Transcript – Graduate Job Podcast #16 – How to get a job you love with John Lees
James: Welcome back everyone to the Graduate Job Podcast, with your host James Curran. The Graduate Job Podcast is your weekly home for all things related to helping you on your journey to finding that amazing job. Each week I bring together the best minds in the industry, speaking to leading authors, entrepreneurs, coaches and bloggers who bring decades of experience into a byte size weekly 30 minute show. Put simply, this is the show I wish I had a decade ago when I graduated.
This week I speak with career coach and best-selling author John Lees, as we cover the topic of how to get a job you love. John shares his expert advice on the steps you need to take to find a job and career which will excite you. He reveals the one trick that will change the way you look at networking, and a brilliant question to ask to make sure you don’t end up in a job you won’t enjoy. If you are a current student, or recently graduated but in a job you aren’t happy with, this is the episode for you. As always, all links we discuss and a full transcript are available in the show notes at www.graduatejobpodcast.com/love. But without further ado, let’s crack on with episode 16.
James: Hello, and welcome to the Graduate Job Podcast. I’m excited today to be speaking to John Lees. John is a career strategist and bestselling author of How to Get a Job You Love and also The Interview Expert: How to Get the Job You Want, Knockout CV, Job Interviews: Top Answers to Tough Questions and Take Control of Your Career
to name just a few. He’s also a regular career expert on TV, radio and in print. Whew!
John, a very warm welcome to the Graduate Job Podcast.
John: Hello, James.
James: So, I’ve given our listeners a very brief potted history of some of your work. Before we dive into the topic today, would you like to tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you became a best selling career strategist?
John: Well, I started life in learning and development and found myself running and training recruitment specialists. So, I did spend a big chunk of my career teaching people how to be better interviewers and a few years ago besides that I wanted to do something different and looked at all the materials, resources and books that are available at that time, and I decided two things. One, I decided to try to write a book to help someone like me answering the question, what on earth should I be doing next; and secondly, because I wanted to put some of that into practice to work with career changes, to switch to the other side of the recruitment desk.
James: Excellent. And regular listeners will know that your book, How to Get a Job You Love was one of my recommendations in Episode 14 of a book that every graduate should read. Today we’re going to explore that further and dive into the topic of how to get a job you love. There are lots of books out there that are great if you have a clear idea of what you want to do. But, not so many that usual for people fresh out of uni and are having issues with the question of where do I start and how do I begin my career. So, starting at the beginning, where would you recommend — and I know it’s not an easy question — but where would you recommend people start if they really don’t know where to start?
John: I think— Great question. I think fresh graduates face difficulties on all fronts because you’ve got to learn how to undertake an effective job search. If you get anywhere near an organization, they really pretty much expect you to hit the ground running in terms of doing the job and then you’ve got the added puzzle of well, how do I choose, because there, you know, four or five generations ago, school leavers chose from anything between about 6 and 15 jobs. Now we’re choosing from tens of thousands. So, where do you start? One of the important things is to really understand what experience you’ve already got, for two reasons. One is just to get some grip on what you’re interested in, what kind of things do you do well, even if it’s in embryonic form. What skills have you got? So, that you can talk about those fairly quickly. The other thing is to say, well, how are you actually going to filter down the tens of thousands of possibilities to something like five or six active choices? And strangely enough, the answer is always about conversations. If you talk to people at that point in their career and say, well how did you discover? How did you make a breakthrough? How did you actually learn enough so that you’re a credible candidate for the job? They’ll usually say well, I actually reached out to people and I had some great conversations. And one of the mysteries at the moment is why graduates are not using their alumni networks to any real extent because that’s one of the ways you can reach people. But there are lots of others too. So, if I can just backtrack on that, the thing about talking to people that graduates really misunderstand is that it isn’t about exerting influence or saying, can you get me in somewhere or can you apply a bit of leverage to get me interviewed. That’s not the most important outcome. The most important outcome is using any kind of connections to track down people who appear to be doing interesting jobs and getting to talk to them because that’s the fundamental raw material that you need to validate your own ideas about what career possibilities are out there. There are other things you can do as well beyond that, but I guess probably a good initial answer to a question.
James: And you talk there about people knowing what they’re good at. It’s often, in my experience, people put into place some of the things that they are good at. What’s a way for people to begin to understand what they’re skills are?
John: Well, you can interrogate any kind of work experience. I do look at a lot of graduate CVs although we don’t work with that many graduates. I do get invited often on a favour’s basis to look at graduate CVs or go to graduate job fairs and the thing about graduate CVs, it tends to be very, very heavy on academic information. Now, it’s not irrelevant but it’s not the most important method as far as employers are concerned. Employers are looking for skills. Now, that’s the first step.
The second step is they’re not just looking for skills but they’re looking for how you apply those skills. So if you’ve got any kind of work experience, paid or unpaid, then what you’re really trying to get across is what did you learn and what value did you add to the job? If you changed something about the job, what did you do? If you learned how to operate a particular process or get hold of a system and really understand it, or to provide customer service— I mean, the interesting thing, graduates, you know, are fairly inventive population and even in holiday jobs what they tend to do is to re-invent things or to delight the customer by doing something slightly different and they never put that in their CV because they’re not quite sure how to say it and also it sounds like bragging. I’ll talk about bragging in a second, but you know, that’s the thing, it’s not so much understanding what I’m good at, it’s making that connection that says, how do I then translate that and communicate it in a way that an employer is likely to find interesting.
James: You talked about the importance of having conversations with people. Do you think this needs to be direct in reaching out to people, say by LinkedIn or Twitter, and kind of have conversation that way or more face to face and speaking to just their more formal network and friends and family?
John: Okay, well, let’s unpack that because some people are perfectly capable of making fairly cold approaches even to people they’re not close to. Most people aren’t, so that the graduates are always going to get better attraction in the marketplace, even by the most gentle form of networking but because they lack of experience of how to approach people and what to say about themselves, they are often the most reluctant to do it. The advice is always to keep it as easy as possible. So even— It’s so often that you get really good results through friends of parents and family friends and people you’ve worked with, the people you started with. Alumni networks are slightly different because that’s almost pre-contracted. I’m part of an alumni network which essentially means if somebody rings me and says, I started at the same page you did, can I have half an hour of your time? I’m on a bounce to say yes. So, you can go quite cold in that process but generally, what’s not going to work for most people is kind of picking the name of somebody, seeing it’s an organization and trying to ring them cold or email them cold. And even using LinkedIn is an interesting one because people then, what they tend to do is make an electronic connection to somebody and it really is much better to pick up the phone and that answers the bit of your question about should it be face to face. Well, the answer is yes. Why? Because you learn a thousand percent more literally, you’re remembered, you built a relationship, you pick up a lot more of the insider language of what an organization is looking for, you get a chance to talk a bit more about yourself and what kind of work you’re interested in. So, we make the mistake of thinking this is all about kind of electronic connections and building up of followers in Twitter and all that kind of thing, but it isn’t. It is actually about building productive relationships and you do that by sitting in front of people.
James: I completely agree and what’s even worse on LinkedIn is when people try and connect with you but can’t even be bothered to change the automated message. You just get the, hello, insert name. Please join my connection.
John: Yeah. I know. I would say, where have our paths crossed? How do you know me? Most people never reply or if they do and they say, well I just heard, I’ve just fallen across you in LinkedIn. Well, that’s not strong enough. So, yeah, value reason why people should connect to you, yeah.
James: Yeah, makes you feel very special in that situation.
James: So interesting you talk there about networking because I know it’s only recently I’ve been reading more and you do, and you speak to people and you do understand more the power of networking, but thinking back to myself as a graduate and just generally the “networking” word just had a dirty connotation.
John: Oh, it’s dreadful. It’s absolutely dreadful. So, people I meet, what we tend to do is to start by saying, well, you’re interested in moving to this sector. How do you think that’s going to work for you? Run the video backwards from the time that you get your internship or even a job offer, run it back. From that point backwards, what are the steps you’re likely to take? Most people tend to say, well, I probably do at some stage need to have a conversation with somebody and that’s all I’ll pick up on. Telling me to network is, strange enough it’s even true for people in midcareer, it’s just a nightmare this scenario because they envision your situation where they’re going to have to have the perfect elevator pitch, they’re going to be self projecting, they’re going to be selling themselves, they’re going to be, you know, kind of making somebody back into a corner and it’s just not like that.
James: No, that’s true. Networking also plays into one line from your book that really struck me which was, “Whatever your career stage, it’s vitally important to be active rather than passive in your job search.”
John: Yeah, that’s true.
James: How can people take on that being active; and you talk in your book about creative career in management?
John: Well, that sounds fancy; doesn’t it? But what it really means is taking control of the levers for yourself and understanding that you actually improve the odds by doing so. So, if you’re passive, what you tend to do is to use job boards or apply to advertised vacancies and they’re often known in the market place, these days, as candidate magnets. You know, in the graduate market place an interesting advertisement in a national newspaper or even an online one for a graduate role, they can easily attract a thousand people. So, you’re chances of getting through even if your CV is brilliant are very, very slim. Sometimes they’ll support the hands, themselves from the hands of recruitment agencies without really understanding that’s a relationship that you need to build and you have to have fantastic clarity about what you’re looking for.
So, the other side of the coin I would say, well, what happens if you are active is that you understand that reaching out to people to discover what’s out there, and I really want to emphasize it, don’t call it networking. Change that word in your brain to something more like, interesting conversations, face to face research, finding people that are interesting. It doesn’t really matter what you replace it with, as soon as you do that what you’re actually doing is making yourself visible to a very different kind of job market. When people say I was lucky because, and I just met somebody, well, you don’t just meet people but that kind of happens because you’re looking and you’re out there. And certainly when the phone rings and says, here’s something that you might like to look at, here’s an opportunity you’ll be interested in, that’s probably because of something you’ve done actively. Active behaviors sometimes means direct approaches to organizations but it generally means telling people what you’re looking for, reaching out, making sure that what limited time you have available that you are talking to people face to face.
James: It’s true. Again, it’s only as I got older that I begin to realize just how big the hidden job market is. So, after university I applied to, my focus was on the big graduate schemes and the big online applications without really thinking that 95 percent of the other jobs were out there and it’s about making connections and speaking to people.
John: Well, that’s really interesting there, James, because I think— That’s such a common story that, you know, people with pretty good degrees, they apply for those schemes and they don’t get very far and they don’t get much feedback. So that’s off putting anyway and then what they tend to do is kind of gradually work their way down the scale very fast to taking fairly low level jobs. So, it usually becomes, well, if I can’t get the difficult thing, I’ll just do the easy thing. Now, the problem with taking a low level job is how long you’re going to stay in it and what that actually does in terms of shaping your CV. So, a midrange compromise might be to say, well, that’s the obvious route. What’s the less obvious route? And again, this is where talking to people helps because you’re not saying, give me a job or tell me where the job vacancies are. Often what you’re doing is finding people who studied two or three years before you and saying, tell me the story. How did you get there? Who should I be talking to? What other organizations are out there? Yeah, so it does make a huge difference and you really have to watch out for this kind of, the rules of the game are not working for me. So, I’ll lower my sights to the bottom level.
James: And you talk in the book about A to Z thinking. So……
John: Perhaps I better explain what A to Z thinking. A to Z thinking is kind of the thinking we use for project management. The problem is in a diverse and kind of chaotic job market where things are being created and lots of jobs aren’t advertised, you can’t just sort of say I’m going to set my sights on that role and that organization and work towards it like I’m managing a project. A better method would be, you’re going to probably have five or six career ideas and these are plates that you’re going to have to spin, even without necessarily saying, that’s the perfect answer. Five or six is great because it means you’re constantly having to say, who do I speak to next? What do I follow up? What connections can I make? What bits of research do I need to do? And you know, even if there’s somebody that says, well, I’m really busy. I’m in my last year at university, I always say to them, well, if you even find half an hour a week to do some of that, then get the maximum leverage out of that half hour.
James: You talked about people settling for jobs that probably didn’t originally think they’d go for. How important is it that people can answer the question, do you work to live or live to work?
John: I often think about that. It’s a sort of out of date question, really. We do find people who really kind of go through work without it really having huge impact on their lives and they really can sort of switch off at 5:00 on a Friday and go off and do something else. However, I’d also say that one of the ways that work has changed and it’s a rarely recent change, when we look at last sort of 10 to 15 years, is that working is kind of something which absorbs all of your best energy. So, because of things like using email and your phone outside working hours and the pressure to have things prepared for work outside working hours, it’s taking, you know, if it’s taking a big chunk of your time — we know that — but the point is it’s taking your best time. It’s taking the time where you are almost energized. So, the old idea that well, just hold down a job and then do something more interesting on the weekends, it often doesn’t work for people because they just don’t have any space or time or energy left.
James: There’s always the red flash on the blackberry going at random times.
John: Well, there is, that’s right. So, I think the work life thing is often….I think a better approach is to say that all work is a deal. All work is a compromise. It’s a compromise between what you want to get out of life and what an organization wants to get out of you. And that’s a deal that you should revisit constantly by thinking in terms of career reviews and thinking about, well, where am I at the moment in my career story and if your work itself is not stimulating you and you’re not learning from it and you’re not challenged by it, then there’s some big issues there that need to be resolved.
James: When we talked before we started recording, around I know graduates I speak to they either, towards the end of their time at university or once they finish university, there’s this big, big pressure to get the job. Even when they do then, they get the big job, the big graduate job that they’ve been working for and then often the reality is very different to the perceived anticipation of what it was going to be like and there’s this pressure to find a job that you love.
John: That’s true.
James: The reality is different.
John: Well, there’s some stuff around in the media even this week around, sort of criticising the idea that people should be even encouraged to find a job that they love because when you get there, the job isn’t that great. You talk to anyone who works in media, who works in publishing, and they often say it’s actually not a great place to be at the moment and there’s people trying to get out. The whole point about this is that we’re not really saying, dream the dream, have a wonderful romantic idea of what the job is and then sort of do everything you can to move into that perfect role. It’s much better advise to say, spend time talking to people about the reality of work and learn to ask the question, well, what do you enjoy about this and what’s the down side and how much of your life does it take up because it’s binary thinking; isn’t it? It’s this either have a job that I really love or I have a safe steady boring job that pays the bills. Now, that’s black and white. There’s an interesting colour called grey in between which is where the important career work is done which is to say, what is the better compromise? What’s the better deal? And it will fundamentally ignore the fact that you shouldn’t really commit to a big chunk of a career without understanding what you’re getting into. I mean, this is a mistake people make every year going into things like law. They having borrowed a huge amount of monies and spend years training and really anticipated what the experience of that work will feel like.
James: Personally I know quite a few friends who did the law degree, got a job, got a training contract and then a couple of years later have moved into completely different fields.
John: It’s a recurring pattern; isn’t it, and same thing about people that are going into teaching and nursing, you know, the jobs that look noble and kind of idealistic from the outside. The one question I love to teach every 15 year-old is, what will I be doing most of the time? Have to interrogating any job, what will I be doing most of the time, because we only ever see the glamorous parts of jobs.
James: That’s a really good question to ask. You talk in the book about people avoiding having great jobs that they’ll love. Why do you think this is often the case?
John: Because I think it’s a safety thing. Because it means, looking hard at the working compromise you’ve already accepted; looking hard at the efforts you’re already making to avoid change; and it also means stepping outside your comfort zone and talking to people. Now, strange enough, what people do is make the assumptions that if I’m going to change careers, I’m going to have retrain. That’s a big assumption. Or I’m going to have to take a huge salary cut, another assumption. Or, if it is a change, it’s going to be a huge change. Now, those are all ideas. Those are all constructs. An awful lot more people change jobs without retraining and you don’t necessarily have to take huge pay cuts, particularly if you’re only sort of in your mid twenties. And then the last one doesn’t need to be a huge change. Well, possibly not because the smarter move is to say well, how can you move across into a sector which is connected to where you are at the moment but it’s a stepping stone in the direction that you want to travel. That’s, I think, why people avoid it because it’s threatening, frightening and the assumption is that you’re going to have to step way, way outside the comfort zone and actually people never do that. What they do, if you have to give them the right support, is that they step just to the edge of their comfort zone and that’s enough.
James: Definitely. I really liked your chapter in your book, Who Are You, and the exercises that you take people through there. How important is it that people think about who they are as a person and what their values are, particularly before they brush off and start applying for those first jobs?
John: It’s important to understand that it’s one of the areas that people are going to be talking to you about and if you think about it, many graduates go into the marketplace and not got huge chunks of work experience. Some of them have got good internships under their belts or they’ve had a gap year or some quality jobs but employers essentially have to scratch their heads and say, well, how do we differentiate? And they differentiate around things like motivation and personality and what makes you tick and what’s your ideal working situation and how do you respond under pressure. So these are the personality characteristics. So, the reason I recommend people understand those is that that’s what they’re going to be asked about and particularly if you go to an assessment centre. However — and there’s a big however — is that you can spend too long thinking about these things and ignore the fact that that’s only one of the places where you do the work. The inward looking bit is one piece of work. Much more important is the outward looking bit which isn’t job search yet, but it’s just saying, how can I get in front of people who are doing interesting things and learn from them and listen to them and use— I ask them to make connections for me and learn pathways. So, you can look at it this way, I think, it’s to say some of the work is inward looking and the most important work that people don’t do is the outward looking stuff.
James: We’re running short on time, so one final question before we go to the quick fire round. As a new graduate, do you think, would you recommend people waiting for the perfect job or a job which is nearly what they want to do? Or, just going out and getting experience and maybe slipping down the pecking order as we talked about earlier?
John: I’m going to say I don’t know if this is helpful but as you say, a bit of both works. So, getting good work experience seems to be always helpful, particularly if you can demonstrate that you’ve learned from it, that you’ve acquired skills, that you’ve got to face the challenge, that you’ve moved through something quickly. So, the worst thing I think is sitting and doing nothing because that starts to become a kind of painful episode, really. So, getting some kind of work but that doesn’t mean taking anything because then what your message becomes is, I’m underemployed and I’m unhappy. Holding out for the perfect job? Probably not, but the check-in on that point is that well, but if you know what 7 out of ten looks like, then work hard to get that. So, holding out for the 10 out of 10 is actually a good way of doing nothing at all because you can say, well, I’m waiting for the perfect role and until that happens I’m just doing these boring temporary jobs. If you know what seven out of 10 looks like, then you’re going to have to work out a strategy that says, get close to a short list. Do other things. Do things differently to get noticed.
James: And you mentioned internships. That’s a great way to answer the question, what will I spend most of my time doing, by getting that experience over the summer.
John: Oh, gosh yeah. I mean, if people who use internships as real deals and say, well, what do I get out of it and getting out of it is simple things like and bits of experience and introductions to people, good reference, you know, there’s loads of good stuff and yet so many internships are wasted, I think.
James: I completely agree.
So, John, we’re moving onto the quick fire section of the interview. So, the first question, which one book would you recommend our listeners to read?
John: A book that’s really impressed me recently is a book called, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking It’s a work book that’s doing very well at the moment and it’s written by Susan Cain and she’s writing about something that really interest me which is how quieter people can make an impact in the world and they can network and they can, they make presentations. They just do it in their own authentic style.
James: Excellent. That’s a good recommendation. I know people who’ve read that one and they’ve really got a lot from it.
Which one website would you recommend that our listeners use?
John: I guess this may be familiar to some of your listeners but if it isn’t, it should be and it’s icould.com. I love icould because what it does is to give you video snippets of all kinds of people doing all kinds of roles and it’s a great first step in asking that question, what would I be doing most of the time in a job.
James: Excellent. That’s not one that I’ve personally heard of. I’ll make sure that it’s linked to in the show notes. Our listeners, check out the show notes and you can find a link to it directly.
James: And finally, John, one top tip that listeners can implement today to help in their job hunt?
John: Just keep on asking that question, who else should I be talking to, so that the conversation never ends with a full stop. Who else should I be talking to?
James: That’s a brilliant question.
So, John, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. How can people get in touch with you and the work that you do?
John: Fairly easy. Just Google John Lees or go to our website, www.johnleescareers.com.
James: John, thank you. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show.
John: Thank you.
My thanks again to John Lees. A lot to take in from that episode, so skip back and listen again and check out the transcript on the website at graduatejobpodcast.com/love and really let the advice sink in.
The key point John made for me was on the need for interesting conversations. I think that’s a brilliant way to rephrase networking into something more manageable and attractive. Speak to people face to face, use your alumni networks at university, get in touch with friends of friends of friends. If you reach out to people for a quick chat they will very rarely turn you down. As he said, people spend too long focusing inwards and not enough time on looking outwards and making connections and speaking to people. You never know where an interesting conversation will lead.
And linked to interesting conversations is my second takeaway. Asking people ‘what will I be doing most of my time?’ Very rarely in the glossy brochures and flashy websites does it say, ‘as a new graduate you will spend 80% of your time copying and pasting from spreadsheets, 15% photocopying, and the other 5% spent travelling to Telford to stay in a Travelodge’. Interesting conversations with targeted people will help you to fill the gaps.
Finally, I loved his comment that you shouldn’t ‘lower your sights to the bottom level, because you can’t do difficult so you do easy’. Often my coaching clients come to me in this situation, having tried for their dream job often without being properly prepared in the first place, they apply, don’t get it, then give up and settled from something easy in the ‘grey zone’. What we then work on, is giving them the skills, experience, and opportunity to get the job that’s difficult. Have a think about where you are in your career right now. If you have a job , is this what you really want to be doing? If the answers no, then it’s time to raise your sights back up to a job that’s going to excite you. By following the advice of John here and my other guests you will find it’s not as difficult as you first thought…..if, you put the work in.
So episode 16 finished, as I mentioned www.graduatejobpodcast.com/love for all of the show notes and transcripts from today. Do get in touch with us on Twitter @gradjobpodcast, and if you appreciate Johns advice let him know @johnleescareers. If you’ve enjoyed the show please leave a review on Itunes or Stitcher radio, As I say every week it’s the best way other than sharing us with your friends to show appreciation for the podcast and it helps massively in the ranking on itunes. If you’ve not already subscribed via Itunes or Stitcher radio, you need to sort that out, it’s the easiest way to get each episode delivered to you for free and to make sure that you don’t miss a thing. Join us next week when we speak to LinkedIn grand master, uber ninja, all round expert Mark Williams, as we cover the topic, unsurprisingly of how to use Linkedin effectively in your job search. As always, I hope you enjoyed the episode today, but more importantly I hope you use it and apply it. See you next week.