Experience can’t be faked and we can’t travel forward in time, so where do we focus our efforts now to better our careers in the long run?
I remember preparing for my first ever job when I left school a zillion years ago. It wasn’t your typical job back then and I guess still isn’t considered ‘typical’ today: I was determined to be a radio announcer. I marched into the FM station that had only launched a year or so prior and asked how I could ‘get on air’. The program director managed to stifle his laughter and suggested I would need experience… “you can’t just decide to start in radio because you like music” were more or less his exact words.
OK, so I would need experience. But how would I get experience if they weren’t prepared to let me loose on the airwaves?
That was what he meant. I needed to practise enough to demonstrate I was committed to learning, committed to investing the time and improvement I would need to become good enough to get the opportunity to do my first on-air shift. It’s a conundrum for the young and for the not so young, this ‘experience required’ expectation when it comes to employment.
For the young – those who have not yet entered the workforce or who have only limited after school and part-time university jobs. The only way you can gain experience is by someone taking a punt on you and allowing you to practise (or ‘fail’) so you get the experience. For the not so young – those who have entered the workforce and maybe been around a while. If you are looking to try a different role, switch careers or work in industries that are new to you, you too are likely to be met with ‘you need experience’.
So why is experience important?
It says you’ve put in the effort and time. This provides confidence to others, confidence you won’t fail (or fail as big or as often), which ultimately means you won’t let them down. One of the few advantages people with a few years ‘behind them’ have is ‘time in’ and therefore ‘experience at’. Every day is a learning experience and when you’ve been working for 20, 30, 40 years or more, you’ve learned a bit. Knowing yourself, knowing how you learn, knowing an industry, knowing what you love, knowing the skills you have, knowing the areas at which you excel, knowing the types of people that bring out the best in you and, conversely, those you should avoid is what time and therefore experience gives you.
How do you get it?
But how do you get experience, especially if you’re just starting out or keen to move into new fields? While you can’t fake experience – and we can’t instantly travel forward in time – there is another way you may be able to ‘cheat the experience system’ slightly. Offer yourself up for work experience – free of charge. “We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction,” says Malcolm Gladwell. I recently had the very good fortune to spend some time with Gladwell, who spoke to us at our newly created ‘Visa Leadership Series’ my Marketing team conducted across Australia and New Zealand in December.
Described by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people, Gladwell is a journalist with The New York Times, an author of five books and a global speaker. In his 2008 book Outliers, in which he examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success, he speaks of the 10,000-hour rule (based on a study by Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson) which is, if you simply practise a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years, you will have racked up 10,000 hours and therefore be very successful.
Greatness requires persistence, consistency and enormous amounts of time. Best to get started now then! So while I can’t expedite your personal experience, I can encourage you to practise your craft and continue to develop your techniques. I can encourage you to learn a new industry and put yourself forward to do work experience pro bono.
You can do these things today.
The other thing I can provide you with today is advice from a few very experienced thought leaders and marketers I am fortunate to know. Their experience comes from being in the workforce for a number of years, so I asked each of them one question: ‘In your 20 years or more of experience, what is the best piece of advice you can offer?’ “Be wary of the word ‘no’. When you hear that something can’t be done, it often means ‘it’s too difficult’ or ‘it’s too much work’. Don’t let others’ lack of energy or commitment defeat great ideas!” – Ken Segall, former agency creative director for Steve Jobs and author of Insanely Simple.
“Read a lot. Read everything that you can get your hands on. Knowing what’s going on is the first step to knowing what’s relevant in today’s world. And ask questions. Of clients, of team members and of people in general. Talk less, and ask more.” – Vanessa Stoykov, founder and CEO, Evolution Media Group.
“You are never the customer. The very fact you are being paid to work on a brand or a channel or a product means you cannot and should not use your own opinion to derive insights. We do research in marketing not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because we literally have no idea what the actual customer thinks!” – Mark Ritson, Associate Professor of Brand and Marketing, Melbourne Business School.
“Embrace your humanity in the age of data analytics and artificial intelligence! What sets us apart from machines is not our ability to analyse data and trends, but our ability to bring data-driven insights to life with imagination and intuition. Brilliant marketing is a blend of science and art.” – Anny Havercroft, head of brand, Yahoo!
“Work on making your genuine strengths even stronger. It’s your point of differentiation and probably something that you love to do because you are good at it. We are often told to fix our weaknesses; however, I’d put more energy into focusing on excellence in things you already excel at.” – Scott Tanner, chief digital officer, Westpac Group.
And one final, very inspiring piece of advice from the legend himself: “If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.” Malcolm Gladwell, we thank you for your expertise – those who put in the hours gain the experience.
This article first appeared in www.marketingmag.com.au
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