How did I get here?
No, I am not pondering one of life’s eternal questions, I already have a theory for that. What I am musing about at the moment is how did I get here, sitting here right now, writing blog posts for Out of the Box Innovations and setters?
It was all a bit of a whirlwind, as many of the most exciting opportunities of life are. Having worked in Government-funded adult education for most of my career, security and opportunities were largely based on the whims of the devolved Government. If they decided that they no longer wanted to fund a specific sector in work-based learning, then it would be the end of contract time.
Therefore, I have a vast history of job-hunting, of applications, of trying to fit into highly specific moulds.
My lament would be “if only we could meet and chat, they could see what I was capable of” as I was increasingly getting frustrated with not ticking their high-maintenance list of requirements. It was akin to interaction with egotistical, narcissistic people on dating sites; if you didn’t tick their ten boxes then bye-bye!
I longed for someone to say “What are you good at? What can you do? Do you think you could learn this? Ok, I can see that you are a capable person, let’s teach you what you need to know”. Of course, this never happened. There was more chance of my last two pounds in the bank transforming into a winning lottery ticket!
Then along came the current pandemic, this pesky virus that caused so much grief, and ultimately unemployment. Finding myself in a position where I needed to find new work, I once again started scouring the job boards, actively avoiding the high-maintenance employers with a list of expected pre-requisites as long as their application forms!
One advert jumped out at me. It appeared to be looking for someone who could learn a new system and then explain it to other people. There was an added sweetener too, that it was within the health and safety sector (a previous role of mine was that of an online health and safety tutor).
There was no long list of essential criteria, no tedious application forms to complete; it seemed such an easy process, I was compelled to give it a go. The fact that the company was called Out of The Box Innovations was a positive sign. I could sense these people were coming at things from a whole new, refreshing angle.
“Our dream candidate: You have excellent English language skills and are based in the UK (or in a similar European time zone) who is sharp-minded, problem-solving and has empathy for those who aren't. You've used lots of different consumer-based software solutions and grasp them quickly. You want flexible hours, but are available when we need you (e.g. a 2-hour virtual event)”
The advert read like it was written by a person, rather than a corporation. This came from an actual person’s mind, as opposed to a centrally held file full of gibberish documents, tweaked slightly to each new position. It made sense; I could understand it! I have lost count of the number of job adverts I have read that left me scratching my head, thinking “so what is the job, exactly?”
To my delight, I got a reply within a couple of days:
“Hi, I just wanted to drop a quick note to thank you for your application. We received 1100 applications in three days, and I've completed the first run through personally, getting an initial shortlist down to 50. You're on that shortlist, and I wanted to say well done - your application stood out.
I plan to make a decision by the end of next week, but I know how it feels to wait for updates on important things, so I wanted to drop you a message.
While you're reading this, here's a quick question:
What's your superpower?
We can all do thousands of things badly, through lack of experience, interest, or natural talent. There might be 10-20 things that we can all do well, but might not be the types of pursuits that hold our attention or define us. Then, each one of us will have perhaps 1-3 superpowers; these are talents where when looking back, we nailed it! Caught lightning in a bottle, became a champion, or even saved a company or organisation!
So, what's your superpower?”
There were approximately thirty seconds of panic, but then I donned my ‘out of the box’ job application hat (that had been quashed for so many years), and I came up with my superpower instantly. I loved this question (after my initial panic)!
Light at the end of the tunnel
Here was someone who was really interested in their applicants. They didn’t want to just read a CV, scan it for absolutes and disregard it, they wanted to know the person behind the experiences. My response obviously struck a chord, as six nerve-wracking days later, I had this reply:
“So, well done for getting past the first interview, we're down to 27 from almost 1100.
(Yes, the first interview was the superpower question, a couple of people got a pass based on the overall application, but there were 25 great responses).
I bet that was the most relaxed interview you ever experienced. Life doesn't have to be complicated. In the world of remote work, there's no need to buy new clothes and spend half a day getting ready and taking a train to Skegness or Chipping Sodbury. (No offence if you're from these places, they were the first random places that came to mind and seemed like a hassle getting to).
Bottom line, Grandma might judge a person by their shoes - but I don't! You can never (at least rarely) see them on a webcam.
So, for the next and possibly the final challenge, I'd like you to talk me through a software application.
On the time of the appointment, you share your screen and talk me through a software application. It can be any software that you're familiar with and find appealing. It doesn't matter if it's about design, statistics, engineering, finance, marketing, or anything else. I'll only be looking at the way you explain it”.
The rest is history
And that, as they say, was that! After a brief interactive session – I was spared from going on for too long, the employer only wanted to see the manner in which I explained things - the final part of the interview was over and I was offered a position a week later.
There wasn’t much time for reflection, as I was introduced to the Setters team the day after, via a Zoom call. It was pretty much systems go after that, and three months in still feels like a bit of a blur in that I was spared the tediousness of the stereotypical job application and subsequent interview.
Life has continued in this vein, with the company set up not being that of your typical commercial, corporate environment. We work as associates for setters, where everyone brings their skills to the table and gets to plot their own route.
This is a reflection of that desire I once held, for an employer to ask me “what are you good at?” and, indeed, of the job advertisement which played on values and attributes rather than skills.
This seems, to me, the most logical way of recruiting people.
I think back to a time where, as an office manager, I wanted to recruit a receptionist who was the most wonderful, lovely person. She was super friendly, bright, helpful and very eager.
My manager highlighted, and laboured, the point that she had no previous reception experience, to which I replied: “I can teach her”. I somehow managed to get my own way, and the lady went on to be a highly valued member of staff. Visiting clients would often go out of their way to provide positive feedback on her, and she flourished, going on to learn further skills and developing her career.
Being crammed into a tiny box with a list of very specific instructions does not work for so many people.
My purpose as a tutor was to allow people to be themselves, encouraging them to learn in their own way, supporting them to look within themselves for answers. This seems, to me at least, the only and best way in which we should deal with people.
Life isn’t prescriptive. There are no rules, no instructions. The tapestry of mankind is constructed from millions of different threads. Each ‘thread’ has their own perspective on things, their own way of doing things and new ways of thinking to bring to the whole.
If only more companies encouraged individuality, work would be a far more enjoyable and rewarding place, and the tapestry is far more colourful and interesting than the plain bog-standard one colour, one size fits all approach.
So, the current pandemic turned out to be rather fortunate for me.
I now get to work with a team of professionals who are open to everything and willing to let colleagues have a go at whatever they want. Working remotely, we speak on a regular basis, with Teams and Zooms calls a-plenty!
Out of the Box Innovations aren’t regarded, or treated, as contractors, but rather as partners and the approach is collaborative. Working remotely as we do allows us our freedom, and also enables us to work independently, which I feel helps with creativity.
This is how I got here. What an exciting journey it was and continues to be.