Dear rule breakers, questioners, straight-A students who skipped class: We want you.

The above message is prominently displayed on the jobs webpage of one of my favourite clothing labels, Everlane, and I love everything about it. I love the idea of an organisation who dares their people to break rules and question, because with that comes creativity, innovation and better ways of doing things. I love that they acknowledge that you can be smart, driven and succeed in the educational system without actually conforming to the educational system. And of course, I love that these are the type of people they want to hire. Not just willing to hire, but actually wanting to hire.

When I was in my last year of high school, I skipped over 35 days of school. School bored me and I didn’t see the need to be there, when it was achievable to cram like mad throughout the night before each assessment. Nevertheless, I got the marks to get into law school where nothing changed.  I’ve only ever been to one lecture for my entire law degree.  The rest of the time, I worked full time and ran small online businesses, pretending I wasn’t actually a uni student and then proceeding to cram madly before the exams.

During this stage in my life, I took a lot of chances. I applied for roles way out of my league, I negotiated pay rises, juggled job offers and tackled any task I was thrown with the type of confidence that perhaps only someone in their early twenties possesses. I was fortunate to come across employers who possessed the same mentality as Everlane.  Willing to think outside the box, willing to hire someone for their potential and attitude rather than their prior work experience. Employers, I might be biased, but I think the employees you take a risk to hire are the best employees. In addition to what you saw in them in the first place, they are likely to be grateful, loyal and hard working because you took that risk in them.

I only experienced the disadvantages from taking a non conventional path when I attained my law degree and set out to find a law graduate role. In my experience, generally, the legal industry, particularly mid and top tier firms, do not value non conformity. They value prestige and tradition, top marks from a reputable university and graduates starting out in their careers who they can shape. They didn’t get me. I didn’t have the right grades. So there I was, earning six figures, proven in the corporate world and yet I couldn’t secure a legal role for at least a year. That was the first barrier to the legal industry, of which there are many, but that’s a post for another day.

Although it was a knock to my self esteem, I counted myself lucky because I wasn’t in the position of a large number of graduates who had diligently followed the university system only to find that there was a major jobs shortage on the other side. I might not have been working as a Lawyer, but I had a great job and invested my effort into it and the MBA. This time, I’m learning from my mistakes and ensuring that I maintain top marks in the MBA in order to keep more options open. It took time but a year after qualifying, I finally happened upon a mid tier firm that saw value in my prior work experience, offering to hire me as a 3rd year lawyer despite me having never held a practising certificate. Again, a firm willing to hire a rule breaker, a questioner, someone who skipped class. That was certainly not their intention or part of their strategy, but nevertheless that’s what they did. They were under-resourced in an area of which I had a lot of corporate experience, and the rest is history.

trail

I guess what I’m trying to convey is, follow the beat of your own drum.  Go with your gut instinct. Do what energises you and what feels right, not what society expects of you. Society doesn’t always know best. Having said that, you’re at an advantage if you can work smart and maintain your ‘ticket to play’ in the area you eventually want to be, but on your own terms. For example, I may never have attended law school and certainly there were many times throughout my career that I never intended to be a Lawyer, but I kept the option open by chipping away at earning the qualification.

Lastly, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In points out that internal research by Hewlett-Packard found that women only apply for jobs for which they feel they are a 100% match; men do so even when they meet no more than 60% of the requirements. If I had been one of these women, my career trajectory would have been painstakingly slower. I encourage you to put yourself out there and take risks when it comes to applying for jobs. The worst that can happen is that the employer will say no, that’s hardly a downside loss in itself. The companies I worked for were certainly not advertising for the likes of me, I hardly even met the selection criteria. It just takes that one open minded interviewer, or the right timing and circumstances which tip the scales in your favour. You just never know unless you try.

That Career Girl

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