It’s a year since we began the Futureheads Five Stories (FFS) series. It features interviews with many of the incredible people from the digital world we speak to while we are recruiting for technology, product management, user experience, digital design, project management, analytics and insight, marketing, change and transformation and leadership roles. FFS finds out about their careers so far, their stories and the lessons they've learnt along the way.
In 30-plus interviews to date, one of the questions we always ask is ‘What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?’. The answers we get back are varied, but we’ve seen several ‘Big Themes’ emerge. So, to celebrate our first anniversary (and in no particular order) here are our top seven:
Trusting your instinct has come up time and again in interviewees’ advice to their younger selves. “Someone told me early on that I was responsible for my own career development and that if I wanted to move in a direction, I was the only one who could ultimately make that happen,” says digital sociologist and strategist Lisa Talia Moretti. “It was only later in my career that I truly understood how invaluable that piece of advice was.”
Matt Pollitt, experience director, adds: “Do what you think is right, go with your gut and don’t be afraid of external criticism.”
“Trust your hunch – and be vocal about it”, says Paul Batterham, principal service designer, with the advice that, in addition to trusting yourself from the off, use that voice of yours, too.
“It’s ok to speak to your mind in front of those people you perceive to be senior – they are people just like you,” says digital strategist, Simon Nixon. “Say what you think, tell the truth and worry less about the consequences.”
Executive creative director Clare McDonald says: “Speak up more, never hold back and believe that you really can do anything you put your mind to. That ability to say it in layman terms is going to do wonders for you.”
Do yourself a favour, she adds, “Shake off that fraud complex early. Have a look at your qualifications and folio and get it through your thick cranium that you are good. Really good. And remember that every single one of the ‘fabulous’ you encounter feels the same.”
Lisa Talia Moretti concludes: “Take the microphone whenever it’s offered to you – don’t be afraid to give your opinion. Believe in yourself, because at the end of the day you’re all you’ve got.
“Be fearless!”, says software engineer and blockchain consultant Rhian Lewis. “Don't worry too much about what other people think of you. You regret the things you don't do rather than the things you do, so try not to let opportunities pass you by.”
“Take more risks and get out more,” Stephen Cribbett, CEO and CTO, advises his early self. “My insecurities stopped me from talking to a lot of people in the early days. Crazy really.
“Everyone has an opinion, and you will do well to take it all on board and harness it, good or bad. There are some wonderful people out there, willing to listen and help.”
Challenging what you see in front of you is key to understanding where you are going and developing the kind of career you really want, says service designer, Daria Kwiatkowska.
“I never quite realised how much I was limited by my perception of what is actually possible,” she says. “It took me so long to figure this out. We’re always surrounded by people who tell us that our plans won’t work out because of the lack of experience, knowledge or any other critical ingredient…this way of thinking led me to put up fake walls around what I thought was possible, limiting what I could learn and the speed with which I could grow. But now I try to push the walls more and see whether they hold.”
Consultant Katy Magrane sums this up nicely with a favourite Einstein quote: “Question everything”, she says.
And remember, wherever it is you want to go you’ll get there faster by working well with other people.
“The moment when I was able to shift from ‘Me’ to ‘We’ was liberating and is something I hold dear to this very day,” says creative director James Reeve. “‘The moment you embrace the feeling of happiness in a team delivering great work can be far more rewarding than individual success.”
Karen Rivoire, chief people officer, adds: “Expand your thinking, understand yourself and meet as many different people as you can.”
“Work with positive people (and if not, get out)”
Staying on the theme of people, many of our interviewees say they would tell their earlier selves to ensure they are working alongside talented people – and avoid negativity at all costs.
Service design and systems thinking director Alberta Soranzo says: “People are everything. Work in public, share your craft and be generous with your time. Be grateful, gracious and supportive, irrespective of what you think a person can do for you.”
Anne Trouillet Rogers, art and innovation consultant, adds: “Draw strength from your network and align yourself with friends and colleagues who support your ambition and interests. Support the people who genuinely encourage your success and avoid insecure or toxic peers.”
“Most importantly avoid negative people like the plague – it is catching!”, says Matt Pollitt, experience director. “A negative workplace is toxic, run away quickly. Surround yourself with positive people and you will be much happier, not only in your work but in life, too.”
Alexander Artsvuni, lead product designer says: “My advice would be that if you don’t see yourself quickly progressing professionally and there is no one around to learn from, start looking for another place to work.”
“Enjoy the journey – don’t worry!”
And finally, the most common piece of advice for people starting out in the careers is to stop stressing, look after yourself – mentally and physically – and try to enjoy what’s happening. Otherwise, what’s the point!
“I would tell my younger self to just chill out, see each situation for what it is and appreciate it more,” says Lola Oyelayo, design and product strategist. “Be more mindful to acquire and remember the lessons that are now serving me so well in my career.”
Mel McVeigh, director and photographic artist, adds: “Have a sense of plan A and where you want to go in life – but know that the path will never be straight, and you can pivot, change your mind, take a break, reassess and so on.
“Stay true to your beliefs and values. Work, life and everything else will align nicely around it. Lose your spirit and you will lose your direction.
“And stop stressing about the future. You can’t control it so let it be.”
Denise Hampson, behavioural economist says: “I would remind myself that I know more than I think I do, to enjoy the breaks and trust the process a bit more. Maybe there is a future version of me right now trying to reach back to today to tell me this exact same thing!”
“I never followed a traditional path and there was no absolute plan,” Kathryn Dowling, sleep practitioner concludes. “So, stop worrying! It really does all work out.”
Want to take part in our FFS series? Say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.