My colleague Sara Morrison is a professional Googler. This basically means that she can quickly and easily find information about any company, idea, person, or product. If anyone’s in the need-to-know, it’s her. This got me to thinking about some spy techniques that you can use for your career launch. Because, let’s face it, most articles about career are boring. But spy novels are anything but that.
I could talk about building stalker skills, focusing on attention to detail, always having another skill up your sleeve, or any number of applicable options. But I narrowed my list to 5 general topics, copied from the Wikihow page on Becoming Spy Material.
1. Get Gutsy.
Spies have to do things that most people won’t. Similarly, it takes grit to build something awesome. And if you want your career to be awesome, you’re going to need to break the mold in more ways than one. Here are a two examples of things most people don’t do that you should.
Take interviews even if they scare you.
Accepting an interview is not the same as accepting a job offer. And yet, people have a bad habit of treating those two things as if there were the same. They think, “I don’t want that job, so I won’t go on that interview.” But that’s foolhardy reasoning. Source
You need interview practice when you’re young. No question. Interviews are great networking opportunities. Besides, interviewing is a skill that you can leverage at any point in your career. Most people don’t think about this. Be the one that stands out.
Talk to people who you look up to.
There’s a high chance that the people you look up to won’t mind hearing from you. In fact, most of them love interacting with young people who are curious about what they’re doing. (Even the most successful people love to talk about themselves!)
There’s a ripe world of great advice, helpful insight, and big ideas that will bring incredible value to your life and work if you only reach out for it. Take an entrepreneur you know out to lunch. Reach out to your favorite marketer and tell them why you love their work. Send a quick thank-you email after meeting with a mentor.
Many young people just watch on the sidelines thinking “I’m sure they’ll never want to talk to me” or “Why would they ever open an email from me?” Be different. You have nothing to lose by reaching out.
2. Get Smart.
Spies never, ever stop adding to their skills and experience. Each mission is a learning opportunity that they take advantage of. Although there’s not a high chance of you getting killed on the job, it’s good to look at each new opportunity as a mission.
Your job isn’t some place to let the current carry you along. It’s an opportunity for you to sharpen your skills and become even more valuable than you were previously. Again, there are two main ways for you to do this:
Never stop learning.
Become a chronic content consumer. Listen to podcasts on your drive to work. Ask for book recommendations and actually read them. Read the blog posts your boss sends over. Focus on learning some new skill to add to your portfolio each month.
This is true both at work and away. Don’t let yourself stagnate; extract as much value from each experience so you have an arsenal for future problems that come your way.
Don’t forget to apply what you’re learning to the real world.
A spy that doesn’t learn from his mistakes doesn’t last long. In a similar way, all that information that you’re consuming won’t do you any good if you’re not creating something with it.
We talk a lot about blogging every day here at Praxis. That’s because we believe in the power of the act of creation. But there are many other ways to apply your ideas to the world. Use social media to share your ideas with the people around you. Create videos. Start a personal newsletter. Start mentoring other people who are learning. Show your work!
3. Get Creative.
The best scenes in spy movies are the ones that make you think “How did he come up with that?” The best things you can do are the ones that are out of the traditional box that career seekers put themselves in.
Most people send the same résumé out for every new job they land. Here at Praxis, we’re about landing jobs in more unique ways. (Here’s one of my favorite examples.)
Be the person people remember.
“Networking” is a word that gets thrown in your face a lot as one of the best ways to accelerate your career. But it’s a concept many people don’t care to flesh out. So all young career builders are out doing the same things- asking people’s names, shaking hands, maybe grabbing lunch a time or two- but never actually doing anything with the network they’re building. Then, when it comes time to find another professional opportunity, they’re hung out to dry wondering where they should go.
Instead, a great out-of-the-box way to go about networking is to just do the things most people don’t. Follow up. Send thank-you notes. Reply to emails quickly. Be the person to take pictures at a conference and send them to others. And here’s a tip for making sure you can keep up with everyone.
4. Get a Day Job.
You know, the cover job. That gig every spy has on the side to cover up the work they’re really doing. But how does the metaphor of a cover job apply to your life? (I’ll admit; I had to think about this one a little.) I know you have some ultimate career in mind (we all have big dreams that may or may not be realistic) but that’s no reason to wait around for life to come to you. Regardless of what opportunities you’re hoping to eventually reach, keep in mind that any work experience is going to be better than just sitting around expecting big opportunities to land in your lap.
Focus on actual opportunities.
Many young people romanticize potential situations that they want or see themselves having while completely disregarding the options that are actually available. Here’s the thing: even so-called “menial” work can be incredibly valuable to your career. Customer success is one of the best backgrounds for a good salesperson or business owner. Waiting tables teaches you management and people skills. Mowing lawns allows you to learn time management and pay negotiation.
Don’t underestimate jobs that don’t have cool titles. They’ll be the foundation for the bigger missions you’ll take on later in your career!
Don’t forget the side hustle.
Don’t let your big ideas escape you. In fact, you’ll love your job much more if your life outside work is also productive and full of growth. Want to work in video editing but don’t have a direct opportunity? Learn Adobe Creative Suite and take on some projects for small businesses nearby. Think you could be a great journalist someday? Pitch your work to some local publications and get a couple side gigs.
Life is full of opportunity- it’s up to you to look for it and create it!
5. Get in Shape.
Spies are no good if they’re not physically fit and ready for any confrontation they might face. In the same way, your next big opportunity will come to you much more naturally if you’re good at the basics of getting a job. And yes, I have two quick points that will simplify this skill for you as well!
1. Get good at researching.
Remember the story at the beginning of my colleague that is really good at googling things? Well, guess what? You’ll want that skill when you’re landing new opportunities for yourself! The ability to walk into an interview with a solid understanding of the company will give you an edge while talking to possible future employers. It’s also going to come in handy when you’re following up (I recommend using the value proposition as a way to show businesses that you’re serious about working for them.)
2. Know your personal elevator pitch and keep it sharp.
“Tell me your story, not your status.” What are the top skills that make you valuable and why? Why do you do what you do? What’s the most interesting thing about you? No one wants to hear a dry example of what you do- it’s much more interesting to hear your “why”. Keep a 10-second, 30-second, and 2-minute version of this personal pitch close to mind, and update it as you need to. This way, you’ll always be the most original, interesting person in every room you enter!
Ready to take on the world with these spy tactics? (The correct response is to say “I was born ready” in a steady voice, put on your sunglasses, and walk off like a boss.)