DOING WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.
Doing what needs to be done from an early stage in your career can have a profound influence on your work ethic throughout your life. Being single-minded and somewhat blinkered in your approach to your future stays with you throughout your professional journey. Here, I would like to share my first experience of doing what I needed to do on my journey:
The first job I had was the best job in the world – or that’s what I thought working there at the time. I was a trainee RC Detailer in an ‘old school’ drawing office. There were about 10 of us working there, and the office was on the first floor of a retail block. Directly underneath us was a bakery, which we made great use of, and opposite to our office on the first floor was a gym.
I remember attending the interview and being really nervous. It was the first interview I had ever attended and like most young people I felt in complete awe of the MD when I first met him. He was only young, under 30, and looked exactly how you would expect a successful MD to look. He put me at ease quickly as I’m sure he could sense how nervous I was.
Explaining what they did and how he had started the company the conversation was soon flowing and I began to speak freely about myself. The interview lasted about an hour and I was trying to enjoy the experience – taking in all we were talking about and listening intensely to everything I was being told. But like most experiences when we concentrate too hard, as soon as the interview had finished I had forgotten everything the MD had said, and all the answers I had given. That didn’t stop me having a good feeling about things, but perhaps that was because I was naive and young. Back then, with no email or internet I had to wait for a letter to tell me whether I had been successful or not in getting the position. I remember when the letter arrived through in the post about a week later, the envelope had the company logo on it, so I knew my answer was inside. I was shaking as I opened the letter, knowing how much I wanted the news to be good, but also trying not to build my hopes up too much. I really wanted the position to be offered to me and as I read the letter the news was amazing - I had been offer the position and I was overjoyed.
As chance would have it, my first day as a draughtsman was on my mum’s birthday – a date I will obviously never forget.
The next 10 months were amazing. A dream company to work for, great people to work alongside and learn from, and a boss who was as inspirational as he was a maverick. I have so many amazing stories I could tell in that first 10 months, it really was the best company I could have ever imagined. I can remember explaining a typical day to my friends and family, they couldn’t believe it.
But then one day it all came to a very abrupt end. I won’t go into the finer details of it all, but the company was placed into administration and every one of us was out of work in a flash.
Needless to say, my professional world came crashing down around me. This dream job and dream company I had been working for simply stopped! I was unemployed, I had less that a years’ experience and had no idea what I was going to do. This may sound a bit dramatic as I was only 18 years old and had my whole life ahead of me, but it was how I felt. I felt I had been let down by a person I believed in, a person I admired and trusted with my future.
After the reality of my situation had time to sink in I decided that this was not going to discourage me in the career choice I had made. I came to the realisation that this was how things are in business, you look after yourself and you only rely on yourself. Only I could change the position I was in and continue to build what I’d started.
I GOT MY HEAD DOWN AND SET TO WORK
I began to write handwritten letters to every consulting engineering company within a twenty-mile radius of my home. Using Yellow Pages to get all the company names and addresses that could possibly want to employ a draughtsman with just less than a years’ experience I wrote individual letters to everyone.
For the guys who don’t know what Yellow Pages are – they are a local business directory listing company details, the services they provide and their address printed on yellow paper, hence Yellow Pages. This was the only source of information we had with regards to company information. This was, in effect, a hardcopy of a local google! All the companies listed were categorised under the services they provided so it wasn’t a case of looking through the entire book alphabetically, which was very useful as the book was about 4 inches thick – about 100mm in new measurements.
I spent day after day looking through this huge book to get company names and addresses so I could write letters to specific companies outlining the position I was looking for. Once every two days I would go to the post office and post all the letters out.
I also looked through the local papers in the Situations Vacant section to see if any companies were advertising for a trainee draughtsman. The local papers came out once a week, and scouring through the job vacancies for anything remotely similar to what I wanted became a Thursday evening ritual. Even if companies had advertised an engineering position but not specifically a trainee draughtsman I would still write to them on the off chance they were growing another team. It was a benefit to write to the companies in the press as it would specify the person you would need to address your letter to. Whereas all the speculative letters I had written were addressed to the Office Manager or Head of Recruitment, whichever I felt the company may have.
After two months, I had written over 200 letters to engineering companies, from large global consultants to small independent practices, and at no point was I prepared to give up. About 10% of the companies I had written to wrote back to me to let me know they had no positions available, but they did inform me that my name would be kept on file if a suitable position arose at any time in the future.
The remaining 90% of businesses didn’t even acknowledge the letters I had written
It became very frustrating, and after 5 or 6 weeks of doing this every day I did start to get disheartened by it. I was determined that this was not going to get the better of me though, and I kept on with what I was doing. I didn’t really know any other way of contacting engineering company’s other than to actually walking into their offices – but I was never going to do that! I remained persistent and focused, and I knew that if I kept going, and doing what I was doing at some point one of my letters would end up on the right persons desk and I would get an interview.
Eventually I was right, and after 6 weeks of writing letters I was offered an interview with a large consulting engineering company. The position was for a Trainee Civil Engineering Technician that hadn’t yet been advertised in the local press. The company was in the process of advertising this position in the local papers and on job boards to widen the interest. My interview had been scheduled for the week after the job had been advertised, which meant I had to wait 2 weeks until my interview date. This would allow time for other applications to be processed and interviews arranged.
During these 2 weeks I didn’t stop sending out letters and looking through the local press. I needed to carry on with my process as nothing would be guaranteed.
I attended the interview, and I was well prepared. Although a little nervous I knew after everything I had done I was determined to make that position mine. I spent over 2 hours talking to the Engineering Director about my previous experience and employer, and my aspirations for the future. We discussed what I had been doing over the previous couple of months and I explained how determined I had been to stay within the engineering industry. I was told they had 4 more candidates to interview that day but I was offered the position there and then with a start date the following week. I had obviously made a good impression.
To be honest, I nearly fell off the chair when I was offered the position whilst still in the interview, and I couldn’t get the smile off my face for weeks. I’m not sure, if as much as being happy, I was relieved.
After writing all those letters, addressing all those envelopes, looking through papers and the Yellow Pages for months, all my efforts had paid off. I was relentless in my pursuit of getting a similar position to my first job, and although it turned out to be nothing like that in the end, I had managed to keep myself on the professional path I had chosen.
This determination and blinkeredness has remained with me throughout my career and my grit and single-mindedness has never relented. Although my journey has had many twists and turns and I became more flexible in my approach, my mindset has never altered.
If you have a goal, and you want something badly enough, you will do whatever you need to do to get to where you want to be.
No matter what level you have accomplished there is always another level. Always another goal.
DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE. NEVER GIVE UP. ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOURSELF