Using your Soft Skills to Pivot Into a New Career

Coming out of university, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do and I tell many people who ask me today that I still don’t. When all of my friends were applying for internships in university, I decided to just copy them. In hindsight I now know that my journey was always meant to be like this because the lack of intentional decisions about my career is what landed me in the middle of an existential crisis 18 months into my first job. This quest for fulfilment at work was ultimately what birthed the whole Earn. Dream. Share revelation, which you can read more about on Seunawo.com.

Now, after spending nearly three years in the back office of this investment bank, I am now moving into the front office to do a more technical and challenging role and I am so excited to do so. The journey to maximising my earning potential has not been easy, but I think there are three lessons I can share to help anyone on their own journey. Apologies in advance, if you are one of those people who has known what they want to do with their career since they were in nappies, this is not for you. However, if like me, you are on a journey that means taking opportunities and being open to challenges as you figure your ‘what’ out, welcome home. I hope these insights guide and inspire you to take that step and pivot in another direction in your career or even your business!

1. Good people are just as important as good opportunities

How did I move from the back office to the front office? It was very simple actually: by connecting with people in an authentic way. I am the most awkward person in networking events believe it or not. I just hate them. However leave me with someone one-to-one and I can talk to them about anything. Knowing this, I treated networking with ease and comfort and just trusted that if I went to an event rather than trying to speak to the most people, I would connect with one or two but make sure I followed up afterwards. This is exactly how I got the role I am going into now. I met the MD who heads up the team at a recruiting event. He had observed me speaking about the firm to a group of students and then asked me to have a coffee with him when we got back. In that chat I shared my confusion about my future goals and I guess he decided to take a chance on me. It is important to always take opportunities because you like the role and you can work with the people. That day he saw something in me I had no yet identified in myself in a professional capacity, and that was the ability to learn concepts quickly and connect with people authentically. You have to leverage your strengths even in a professional capacity. There comes a time where good grades stop being your pass to good opportunities. The softer skills I always argue will trump those every single time.

2. Understand that your willingness to start again and learn something brand new is a selling point

People always ask me what I said in my interviews since what I do now is actually completely different to what I did before. In the 13 interviews I had (in total) the one sentence I remembered repeating over and over again is: ‘I’m a hard worker and a problem solver, this is the same attitude I will bring to this new role. Although I do not have the technical skills, I am curious to learn.’ I backed it up by going year back. I would have been up for promotion in my old role but I opted to move to a more junior position for the sake of learning something new. By doing so, or expressing my willingness to do so it was clear that I meant what I said. Of course this was a sacrifice, but I personally believe that sometimes like an arrow, you have to be pulled back to be propelled forward. One missed promotion in a life long career is honestly not the end of the world so be honest with yourself and your interviewer about where you currently are

3. Feelings aside, always make sure you do a really good job

Even though my move was an internal one, the process still took a long time. I began the process in December and didn’t make a move until the end of May. I kept a journal throughout because I wanted to remember the process. It was a faith journey I was on and like every single journey there are ups and downs. I remember one point during the process where I was in my fourth week of waiting to hear back on whether or not I had gotten the role. My level of frustration was really high because in prepping for the interviews I had completely immersed myself in the new role and also assumed I wouldn’t really be in my current role to meet certain deadlines so I just kind of coasted. As I reflected on my lack of motivation in my current job a simple thought arrested my thinking: you know you can never move if you don’t get a good reference from your current manager right?. Immediately I made a decision to completely step up my game in my current role and find as much energy as I could for it. I set tighter deadlines, worked longer and harder as if I was not going anywhere. What I learn in those three weeks (I would only hear back about the role in April and has interviewed in early Feb) was the importance of plain and simple unemotional hard work. Its harder when you do not feel it, but it’s a better way to learn to work. In the end my manager was incredibly supportive about my move and even facilitated the entire negotiation process and remains a trusted adviser and friend till date. Make sure regardless of how you feel about your work, you deliver to the best of your ability. In the end your career story is made up of All of your jobs not just the ones you love. Being able to show your dedication and hard-work is the basic ingredient of getting new opportunities. He who is faithful with little will be faithful with much!

All in all, I’ll say a HUGE part of it is having confidence! Understand that work is as much about learning as it is about delivering. You do not have to be perfect, you just have to be willing.

2 Comments
  1. I feel a lot more encouraged after reading this piece. I have never been sure about what career path I really want to follow but hopefully, soon I will. I applied for a job as a business analyst at a private equity firm which focuses exclusively on the Nigerian Agribusiness sector. As an entry level nutritionist, I didn’t even know I’d get an interview but I decided to try since it sounded like an interesting job with numerous career opportunities. Despite my obvious naïveté in business analysis, my interviewer sensed my curiousness to learn and I was offered an internship till I prove my ability to learn new concepts in a short period. I am excited since now I have set my foot in the door of the organization and I am also very enthusiastic about being a part of their numerous projects. However, I am nervous… very nervous about being able to deliver and learn quickly. I’ll definitely apply all the tips you shared to help me secure a full offer in the shortest possible time. Thanks a lot for this article.

  2. This resonates so much with me! I moved from banking(after 3 years) to FMCG in March this year all in a bid to find my path. Total change from what I was doing before (Corporate Banking which is a sales/marketing role to finance which is a back end role). I actually took a pay cut from a monthly point of view but the larger picture wasn’t too shabby although I was due for a promotion as well. At times I wonder if I was thinking straight and if this my lack of direction career wise won’t keep setting me back but the arrow reference has brought a fresh perspective to light and it’s good to know I’m not alone in this finding purpose journey. Thank you Seun

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