Cath Jones (People Operations Manager at Buildkite, a platform for running fast, secure, and scalable continuous integration pipelines on your own infrastructure.) has had a career that’s taken her from fashion, to multimedia design and coding, to engineering, to a startup focused on diversity debt in tech companies, to University for HR and Gender Studies, to Buildkite. She says by following your passions and identifying transferrable skills you never have to feel like you’re ‘starting over’ when you make a change.
How To Start a Career Transition
Career transition can be scary, and it can feel risky to change paths and start again from scratch, but Cath is adamant that every skill is transferrable, and by identifying and utilising your transferrable skills you never need to feel like you’re back at the bottom of the ladder.
“It's very easy to get trapped in this traditional idea that you're supposed to get on that ladder and keep climbing up, not end up at the bottom of another ladder.
But you’re not your job title, you’re a whole person and a collection of skills that you’ve learned throughout your career, a lot of which will bring incredible value to your next role.”
A useful first step is to ask friends and colleagues what they see as your strengths, to help you become aware of skills you may not have identified, and position yourself for new roles.
Cath also followed her passions, noticing she was putting her energy into helping others and fixing problems. She leveraged her network and used her strengths during her job search, trying to have conversations with people before they saw her resume. She also used her personal brand to position herself as a specialist;
“I had the opportunity to network more and rebrand myself as a specialist in the tech, people, diversity and inclusion space, which is what led me to Buildkite.”
Personal Branding is Key
Shaping the way people perceive you professionally can impact which opportunities come your way. Cath suggests some clear practical steps for personal branding:
- Update your Linked In profile to reflect the specialty you want to be known for
- Follow relevant groups on social media, using hashtags to network online
- Join communities, meet ups, and online channels focused on your area of interest
- Find a communication style that suits you and focus your efforts there, eg. speaking on a topic, or writing blog posts
- Learn and read about the industry to become an expert
Cath is clear that we need to build up a set of skills that can be applied in multitude jobs and industries;
“It’s so easy to label yourself, ‘oh I'm an engineer’, but that's just a label that we apply to a set of skills. If you take that label away and actually just look at your skills, you can translate them into so many different things.”
With the changes that are happening in tech (and many other industries) experts now say the vast percentage of jobs people will hold in ten years’ time don’t even exist yet. That knowledge allows you to be creative in the application of your skills set.
Identifying Transferrable Skills
Part of Cath’s success has been driven by her ability to identify her skills, and present them in a way that makes it easy for someone to translate them to a job she may not have done before.
Look holistically at the work you’ve done, what skills were required, who you’ve worked with and what skills they need in their position. Through that investigation you will discover interesting links. For example, you may find someone in marketing is doing quite a lot of data analysis, giving you skills threads to follow.
Identify your consistent areas of interest. Cath knows she loves a challenge, creativity, helping people and problem solving and looked for creative ways to do what she loves.
Do Your Due Diligence on Your Dream Company
Many companies have an amazing set of aspirational values that aren’t yet lived in the business.
Doing due diligence before you join a company can help prevent surprises later. Cath suggests;
- Meet your prospective employers multiple times.
“The first time I met Keith (Buildkite CTO and co-Founder), he was on stage setting a wallet on fire at Ruby Conf. (He used to be a magician.)”
Test them out. Cath began by consulting with Buildkite, which got her excited about the business.
Use the talent acquisition process.
You don’t always have the opportunity to consult before you start. There are, however, often several interactions prior to securing a position.
“There are signals in the hiring process. If they're saying they're caring and empathetic, then you should see empathy in the process and be treated respectfully.
If you get an opportunity to talk to people, ask, ‘what's one thing you would change? How do you demonstrate ‘this value’ within your organisation?’. Find out if they have key performance indicators around the values.”
As candidates, you have an opportunity to ask questions and interview the company, just as they are interviewing you.
“It's easy to get excited about a business when you're passionate about the problem they're solving, and then not ask enough probing questions. I think candidates need to feel more empowered that they're interviewing as much as being interviewed.”
Cath’s Dream Job
Cath has woven her way through a few transitions, and now finds herself very happy at Buildkite where she can draw on skills and passions she’s identified throughout her journey.
For Cath, the risk of stepping off the ladder you’re climbing may well reap rewards beyond your expectations. At Buildkite she has the opportunity to be the first People Operations Manager, building policies and processes from the ground up. She is playing to her passions, and undertaking a wonderful learning opportunity.
“I don't want to use the term unicorn, but Buildkite are very unique and it takes a lot of work to develop a culture of psychological safety. They're really people first, genuine, and there's such a unique level of honesty, integrity, and empathy.
I am really lucky to have this opportunity to work with Buildkite and to be so aligned with their purpose. It's a very unique environment.”
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