Like many other start-ups, Wojo grew out of the founders’ personal pain. Two years ago, I was a technical consultant at Amazon Web Services looking for product-related opportunities. My friend, Liz Maslakova, was trying to get into a more interesting role as a product manager at a growing start-up at the time. We decided to support each other by meeting regularly and making those meetings open for an unlimited number of people to join.
More and more people attended those meetings, and we began to build expertise in changing careers. During the first wave of COVID, a lot of events moved online. We started thinking about online courses and other more scalable formats, too. We decided to develop digital coaching for those who would like to start a new career. This was how Liz and I founded Wojo (from ‘work’ + ‘mojo’).
I am used to changing careers. I moved from country to country, changed careers between cloud architecture, tech consultancy and data science and picked a role that was to my liking within the variety of technological professions. And now I am changing my role as an employee to that of a start-up founder.
What we do professionally is incredibly important. A project called ‘80,000 hours’ reminds us that that is approximately how long a person’s career is. Our profession defines our identity, our social circle and even the way we dress and talk. So, if you wonder whether you should put effort into finding a job that makes you happy, the answer is always yes.
About a quarter of Wojo users come with a story about how they tried it once and it did not work. This is a common situation. For example, finding a job in an industrial capital city normally takes 3–6 months. Finding a job in a completely new field may take more than 11 months.
Every situation is unique. But the most important thing in changing careers is changing your professional identity. It is like moving to a new country. You will have to learn a new language, make new connections, redefine your values, gain confidence and stop feeling like an outsider.
Finding the sweet spot
If you cannot find a job in your field, then the approaches you are currently using are probably not working. Before you continue, you need to understand why. Maybe your desires (‘what I want’) do not match your skills (‘what I can do’) or the market’s needs (‘what I should do’). It would help if you reflected on your job search or career change experience from these three perspectives: ‘what I want’, ‘what I can do’ and ‘what I should do’. By doing this, you will understand how you can improve as well as see new opportunities.
Try to analyse the job search funnel — CVs, screenings and interviews — and identify the problem area. Ask for detailed feedback from your social contacts and from employers who have declined your application. It will help you understand what you should correct and improve.
Try to focus on a career change — planning, activities (interviews, networking, training, events), reflection and then planning again. This will redirect the resources you spend on frustration and anxiety into a gradual move forward.
Changing careers is a difficult, time- and energy-consuming step which people usually take when they find their current career no longer satisfying. But there is no need to be afraid of changing careers. You can do it step by step and save your energy by focusing on the right things. Wojo provides digital coaching that can help you with this.
The international labour market is very competitive, so one has to work hard consistently and intentionally to succeed in whatever career path they choose.
Soft skills, especially communication skills, are very important here. Adapting to local cultures adds many points to your career karma. I believe the best strategy is to find the balance between embracing the new social climate whilst retaining those features of your native mentality that make you competitive.
Other communication skills are important too. For example, the skill of making and maintaining social connections. Sending your CV directly to the company is not the only option. You can also apply for a job through someone you know. It will make you 85 times more likely to get to the interview stage. Of course, It will not invalidate the fair and competitive selection process.
Social connections also help you understand how a particular job market works. There are many apps, conferences and events for various professional and non-professional interests where people meet to exchange experiences. Utilising these opportunities can help you to learn what skills and ‘nameplates’ are most invaluable whilst allowing you to see what job descriptions really have ‘under the bonnet’.
It is also important to know how to present yourself in the best possible light. Update your CV to highlight your strengths and communicate the story of your achievements to the interviewer. The best way to develop these skills is through practice.
All these things are important in the technology field too. Of course, every speciality has required technical skills such as the knowledge of programming languages, graphic design software or frameworks. But one thing that makes technology companies, particularly start-ups, different from companies in other areas, is that a technology company pays extra attention to whether or not their employee shares their values.
In the technology field, staff turnover is very high. The cost of searching and recruiting a new employee is high, too. That is why technology companies search for talents that are motivated by the company’s values and mission. Employees who share the company’s values are less likely to leave and appear to be more productive.
Make sure you go to the job interview well prepared. You should be able to explain why you want to work for this particular company. Your answer should be concrete and sincere. Answers like, “I want to change the world for the better together with you”, may no longer work. Recruiters hear them too often.
Finding a dream job is a winding road, and the result is not always clear and predictable. People may give up if they have not managed to achieve the goal quickly. But as we go down this road, we learn more about ourselves with each step taken and find more satisfaction in our professional lives.
This article was originally published in ZIMA Magazine.