I recently came across a report card from my pre-school days back in India. The teacher had commented how shy and reserved I was, describing me as ‘a dreamer’. I remember laughing out loud because anyone who knows me now will tell you I’m anything but reserved or shy. Saying that, a dreamer – I hope I always will be.
Even at school in my later years, being at a full time boarding school, I mostly spent my days imagining wild and wonderful places and beings. Most of my days were spent hidden away from the bullies in the library and as little time as I could in the classroom. By the time I got to age 12, everyone had written me off as probably being a ‘no good’.
That is, until one year, a friend was entering a State-wide essay writing competition and pressured me to join in. To cut a long story short, I won that competition and suddenly I had that moment most of us seek out in life. That nirvana moment when I had found my talent and in doing so, I had found purpose.
I soon found myself swimming with the best at the top three in my school and went on to top my college at A levels. All this time, I knew I wanted to be a writer but I had one barrier – money. Yes that age old problem…. I didn’t come from the wealthiest of backgrounds (I spent from my early childhood living in a single rented room with my family) and by 15 I was half financially supporting my parent. This combined with the fact that the only journalism courses were in the posh end of town – made my dream seem less of a reality. What resulted was a degree in Economics and an ever longing desire to find a route to express my views and have a voice.
Not long after, I landed up doing an evening diploma in PR and Corporate Communications thinking this might be a route into what I really wanted. As a final assignment in getting that Diploma, we had to produce an original piece of written work. I still remember the pride when I had mine submission returned with an A* and a note on top which read ‘Do me favour and get your work published!’
In 1995, the Internet had found a new force in India and I took up a receptionist role at one of India’s first online ventures Rediff.com. It so happened that one day, all the journalists were out and my Editor asked me if I could try and get a story for him. I reluctantly agreed not really knowing what I was doing and the sinking feeling that I was going to fail miserably. That evening my first ever article got published online.
The next day I went in to my receptionist desk as usual when the Editor came over and asked what I was doing. When I said”answering the phones”, he laughed and said “No you’re not. You’re going to be writing from today.”
It turned out my writing had a freshness and honesty that was just what the online audience was looking for.
Pretty soon I learned that the value of having an online audience was that you got immediate feedback on your work but you grew much more than readership – you grew a community. And growing a community of people was a powerful tool and skill to have. This later helped find that natural route into working in Social and Content.
Years later, after doing a couple of years at ELLE INDIA, I married and moved countries and had to start all over again – except in a culture I barely knew, a place I couldn’t navigate and the only person I knew was my husband.
With no job, no money and no friends outside of my home life, I used my one contact (my husband) to convince his MD that I could set them up online. I did the business case and even visited several schools to research my ideas – standing in the only place I knew I’d find people who would talk to me – the library and landed my first role to set up a website with interactive learning for kids.
It was then that I realised I had more drive in me than I thought and that it’s what you know that counts but how much you believe in what you want to do.
From then on, I have gone on to do some inspired roles, learning from experiences as I went along – finding my way and building not just my core skill in content and community but learning how to apply it within complex businesses including BT, Sky, Capgemini and my current role at a bank.
So, a few tips from me to help you out if you’re just starting:
- Be sure of who you are. If you are simply relying on academics, then you won’t stand out and you will soon lose your way.
- If you’re sure of yourself, you don’t have to succumb to having to work for businesses you don’t want to work for. Finding a job isn’t and shouldn’t be your guiding force. Doing something you love in a place that you love should be the things that guide you.
- CVs – please do show personality. Please don’t write your previous job descriptions but show what you’ve achieved and learned.
- Interviews – Make. The.Effort. It’s worth it. The amount of talented people I’ve met who haven’t done their research or scrubbed up or showed up late and lost out as a result.
- Books – Depends what makes you tick but I’m a committed reader of the Harvard Business Review. Only recently my husband told me to read ‘What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School’ by Mark McCormack and I recommend every single person entering the workforce should give that one a go.
I would like to leave you with some lessons I’ve learned on the job.
Titles don’t mean a thing – they are there for people who need to rely on them for security. Producing the best work possible and work that you’re proud of is the only CV you ever need. Because, when you’re looking back – it’s not the titles you will remember but the work you have within your portfolio. You will have a few good leaders and a lot of really poor leaders … leadership is the hardest thing to get right but whatever your experience, remember that you learn from both these types. The good leaders help shape you into future leaders and the bad leaders allow you to be clear with yourself on the type of leader you don’t want to be. Find your friends because you’ll need them. Don’t compromise on your principles – I’ve witnessed that money and power comes with an immense responsibility.
With that, I’d like to wish everyone a happy #IWD2018 – to the women who bring strength to this world and the men that stand behind every strong woman. Go forth and be….
Bian Salins LinkedIN