24 year old Geography graduate Jonny Thomson is perhaps the finest example I know of somebody who transformed their career by transforming their mindset. In a matter of months, Jonny went from disconnection and apathy in a job he hated to landing his dream job in an innovative non-profit organisation supporting grass roots entrepreneurship all over the world. His story proves that unconventional job searches pay off, that the days of following the herd of CVs and recruitment agencies are over, and that job searching isn’t just about a job – it’s about finding the job.
Hi Jonny, so what do you do now?
I work for an NGO based in Victoria, London called Youth Business International (YBI). I would describe YBI as an innovative start-up NGO. I recently secured a role as an analyst within their Network Resourcing and Sustainability team. I work on a variety of YBI initiatives around the world, (including Latin America, Caribbean, East Africa) and am mainly focused on engaging private sector organisations to help fund youth entrepreneurship programmes that provide support for underprivileged individuals. I love what I do, and I have a very exciting future ahead of me at YBI.
What’s the story of your career transformation?
Straight out of university I worked for an energy consultancy company in London as a Carbon & Sustainability consultant. I worked there for 18 months. Like many people, we leave university and move to London to find a job. But I soon realised that I had been ushered on to a career path that wasn’t my own. I felt disconnected and unfulfilled.
I decided to go to my first Escape the City event to meet others in a similar position to me. Luckily for me I met some fantastic people at this event, including Will Reynolds and Erin Potter. At the event, one of the members of staff at Escape asked me what I wanted to do. At the time I said I would want to work for a really interesting NGO where I’m able to work on a variety of projects all over the world (with option to travel) and benefit the lives of others (this statement is relevant to where I am now!)
A few weeks after our meet I was sat in a cafe on my lunch break at my old job and I received an email from Will, who had previously been in the position I found myself in. The email laid out a step-by-step plan for how I can make the transition into a career of my choosing. I remember leaving the cafe with a big smile on my face and the confidence that I can successfully transition in to a job that brings me real joy and satisfaction.
We spend so much of our time at work, and when you begin to dread going in every day you have to make a change. The big question was what do I want to do, and how do I get there?
So I decided to quit my job, and focus all my time and energy in to discovering for myself what it was I wanted to do. I didn’t want to rush in to anything. I had saved enough money to live for 4 months without an income.
I started to become fascinated by the development field, and the recent growth of social enterprise in the UK and worldwide really captured my attention.
I wanted to explore this area further so I decided to start a blog and a podcast to do just that. I would email interesting leaders (CEOs and Founders) within this space and request to do an interview for my podcast. I would follow this up with a blog post, based on the interview and research that would inform their audience with the hope that it would draw interest to their business.
The first interview I did was with my now current boss, Dominique from Youth Business International (not on the website as I did not have a sound recorder then), which led to an opportunity to do an internship with YBI. During the internship I worked on a variety of interesting projects and tried to add as much value to the organisation as possible. After 1 month I was offered the job I wanted to secure at the start of this entire process with the type of organisation I had been searching for.
I didn’t send a single CV or cover letter during this process – this just shows the value of approaching finding a job in a completely different way. I think if I followed the conventional method of finding a job I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Why was it so important to you to make a change?
I felt very disconnected through the work I was doing in my previous job and I knew that it wasn’t for me. I started to feel increasingly frustrated and I knew I had to find something more aligned with my values and interests.
I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted to feel pleasure through my work – I think this consensus is true of the millennial generation more broadly.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
Family pressure – my dad was not supportive of me deciding to quit my job (I think for financial reasons). He didn’t realise how unhappy I had become in my previous job. He told me that I shouldn’t have quit, especially when I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time – we actually had a big argument and fall-out at my birthday dinner! But I had a sensible plan and I knew that if I worked hard every day, I would make it work.
Owing to what I have achieved, my dad recently apologised to me and realised that he was wrong. I think this is a good example of the differences between our generation and theirs in terms of mentality, and the way you should approach your career. My dad is a doctor – he followed a very traditional career path which was common of people of his generation. Fortunately, the learnings from my experience have meant that my dad’s mentality has shifted, and it is now similar to mine.
Financial constraints – I had saved enough money to support myself for 4 months if I stuck to a strict budget.
What are the key mind shifts that you experienced that massively helped the way you went about your job search?
The learning that there are so many tools at our disposal in 2015 that enable us to learn almost anything we want (podcasts, blogs etc), to give us a voice, and the ability to collaborate with interesting and successful people in their field.
If you approach things in a different, relatively unique and interesting way, and provide value to others along the way, opportunities will come your way that you would never expect when following the conventional path.
I think just flipping the system of how you are supposed to find a job on its head. Instead of being interviewed by potential employers, I was interviewing them (for my podcast). But what’s better, I was actively seeking people and organisations that were hugely interesting to me, that I would want to work for.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to people looking to embark on similar journeys of career change?
To question what you have always been taught at school and university. Think how you can do things differently to stand out from the rest. Identify what it is you are interested in (this is difficult because we all have so many diverse interests). But identify something and engage with it in an interesting way through online means so you have a platform to demonstrate your genuine interest and value to others. The opportunity to do this is rare when following the conventional path. The platform is a great way to network with successful people in your area of interest, which often opens up tremendous opportunities.