Better late than never

The worst job interview process I ever had was about 8 years ago for a large consulting firm. They invited me in for 5 separate interviews with progressively more senior people. In what turned out to be the final interview, the interviewer – who wasn’t a terribly likable fellow – deliberately stopped about half way and said “As things stand you haven’t done enough for me to offer you a job and so you have another 20 minutes to change my mind”.

Needless to say I was somewhat flustered by his rather blunt approach and didn’t handle it very well, partly as I was trying to pretend to be what I thought they wanted rather than just to be myself. Of course I soon realised afterwards it was a test to see how I perform under pressure. Anyway, in the end I didn’t get the job and the main feedback was a) I didn’t appear to want it enough and b) I hadn’t demonstrated how I would fit within their organisation. Of course he was right on both counts and it was a good, if somewhat unpleasant lesson.

“An entrepreneur is someone who works 17 hours a day for themselves, so they don’t need to work 8 hours a day for somebody else.” Dominic Campbell

When I graduated, the main career options for someone like me with a degree in physics was either to become an academic or go and work in financial services, neither of which particularly appealed to me. Whilst I liked the idea of becoming an entrepreneur I didn’t know anybody who had done it and I didn’t really think I had a good enough idea of what to do or how to do it. And so didn’t really consider it seriously.

Instead, I started on a fairly eclectic set of career choices to find something I liked and was good at. My choices were quite simply a combination of aiming to do stuff that I thought would be interesting, where I thought I could learn something, and where my boss and colleagues seemed like good people.

And so I went on to do a completely different job every couple of years including working as a music producer, book publisher, research scientist, IT project manager, and then policy maker – all broadly around the theme of innovation. I certainly learnt a lot, built up a wide range of contacts in very different industries, and got a kick out of trying to master a new role every few years. But it was also getting progressively more difficult to jump ship as the roles I was going for, such as the consultancy job, wanted somebody with a more clearly defined career path and set of skills. Also I quickly got bored  and increasingly frustrated to have to work for other people, who were somewhat trapped themselves. Part of my way of dealing with it was to compartmentalise my work and non-work life, and the lowest point was probably concluding that work was just something I had to do to make a living, rather than something I’d actually enjoy.

And so I rather cynically applied for the job with the consultancy (and several others like it) where I thought I could at least I’d be better off. And so now I attribute the interviewer in giving me the kick up the backside I think I probably needed to pursue what interested me and what I believe in, albeit I still think his interview technique is harsh and I’d never use it myself,

It did mean that I stopped applying for jobs which I knew deep down I would probably not enjoy, and rather started reading lots of books, building and consolidating my personal network through having lots of coffee’s with interesting people, which enabled me to form and start to share my own opinions. This enabled me finally, in 2006, about a year after that interview, to be offered and accept a job at Nesta where I started leading a new programme of work on open innovation which was the making of me in many ways career wise. It allowed me to pull together the many varied strands of my career up until that point, together with the autonomy and ability to explore and experiment, and it remains the foundations of what we do now at 100%Open, for which I am extremely grateful.

It was through my time at Nesta that I finally found the courage and the opportunity, at the age of 35, to start my own business, 100%Open, together with my business partner David. We are now nearly three years into it, and whilst it’s not without it’s own challenges, I wouldn’t have it any other way and I’m slightly astonished that it took me so long to get to this point.

In many ways I think we are all entrepreneurs now, whether we run our own venture or work within a larger organisation. And it seems that many more people are embracing it at all ages, of course partly through necessity but also through choice. And so I’d love to hear about other people’s worst interviews and eclectic career paths and what it lead to.

I don’t have any regrets at all about the career choices I’ve made (or perhaps didn’t make), but I do wonder why I didn’t do this 10 years ago when I had much less to lose and more time to experiment. Whilst it isn’t always easy and I am undoubtedly working harder than I ever have, it’s deeply rewarding in so many ways. So even if it took a little while I guess it is, as they say, better late than never.

by Roland

Comments

  1. Thanks Ronald, good post.

    Innovation takes a great deal of experimentation and we all work in different ways and at different paces. So while you might wonder why you didn’t make the decision to change course 10 years earlier, you probably needed the time to just soak-up some experience first.

  2. Thanks Matt – yes agreed and like to think I wouldn’t have accepted if it had been offered. Anyway, all worked out in the end 🙂

    Cheers Tim – Like a fine wine, we get better with age perhaps 😉 having said that I’m pretty sure that if I’d waited another 10 or even another 5 years I wouldn’t have made the jump voluntarily. But hey, it’s all speculation.

  3. I too had an eclectic career path before settling in innovation. In some ways, a restless interest in the new and varied marks you out for the role I think.

    I had a similar experience in an interview where an unpleasant senior barked at me to prove I could stand up to people, (being unhappy with my previous answer that I persuaded, rather than forced colleagues to my POV.)

    I replied, “I’m doing it now” and left the room.

    Suffice to say, I didn’t get the job.

  4. Hey Dan. Great story. Kudos for walking out. Reminds me of an story I heard years ago (not sure if it’s true) that when somebody was asked in their final year Philosophy exam upon which their whole 3 years of study depended, “What is courage?” simply wrote “This is.” and similarly walked out.

    Anyway, I sometimes joke that innovation isn’t a career path, rather an affliction. The final resting place of the insatiably curious perhaps.

    Roland

  5. Holding on to any encouragement that floats. I’m about to be made redundant and have started eezap.com. My wife is going to love the fact that it’s going to take a few years to fly!

  6. Hey Thanks Marcus. Sorry to hear you are about to be made redundant but go for it and make the most of it. I can put your wife in touch with mine for joint counselling if that helps 😉

  7. You think you left it late?! I think that there’s no right age for this, but maturity largely consists of knowing a good thing when you see it and going for it. I’ve always felt that there was an entrepreneur in me somewhere but needed 3 things to get things started: A client, a point of difference and an inspiring partner. At Nesta I found all three!

    David (the older business partner)

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