The Rise of the “Corporate Jungle Gym"
A time when the Corporate Ladder simple doesn’t fit...
How many of your meetings kick off like this: “How about we get everyone to quickly introduce themselves?” For which people reply with a long list elite universities and corporate positions. How many times do you scroll down a LinkedIn profile when hiring for an open position to see what degree or role someone has and how it fits with the position? How often do you hear people name drop the “MBA” bomb at networking events? Well, if you are anything like me, A LOT. However, the people that do this seem to be forgetting that we are entering a new age of career progression. After recently finishing Sheryl Sandberg’s thought provoking book, Lean In, it is clear to see that the corporate ladder is being displaced by “corporate jungle gym” as we enter the rise of millennials. The traditional mentality of striving for one sole life long career that is achievable through one clear path is a thing of the past.
This is great right? It is no longer a time when your education, qualification (or lack of) directly correlates with the position you can bring the most value to. In fact, from my own personal experience of interviewing and hiring talent, it is clear to see who is “book smart,” who is “experience smart” oh and who is “mum smart.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not throwing a university level education under the bus, I am myself am an eternal learner and have a higher education, however I believe when hiring it is important to understand that the perfect position-profile match should not be based fully on qualification or history. But the proof is in the pudding right? Let me share with your my career journey, as well as a couple of stories from the team here at Tada to re-enforce this “jungle gym career notion.”
After finishing high school, I decided that before I would start my tertiary studies, I first needed to see the bigger picture - so I travelled to Europe via Asia at 17. Alone. Having never left my country before in my life, and only ever been on an airplane once before… I must say it was a shock. If I was in search of a new experience, I definitely got it and in doing so gained an invaluable view of the world and how it works. On my return back to NZ I was a different person. I kicked off two Bachelor Degrees at the same time - Law and Psychology. My theory was that law would teach me about the world and how humans should act, and psychology would teach me about people and why they react…
During my studies, I worked part-time, after all tertiary education in New Zealand is super expensive and well, I like doing a lot of stuff at the same time. During my first year I was a surf lifesaver, a position that taught me how to develop a strong eye for detail, react in stressful situation oh… and also get a good sun tan. In my second year of studies I was a swimming teacher, at a busy city pool. Working with kids taught me valuable lessons in patience and learning to explain things differently. After the pool, I then I got a job as an admin assistant at a busy physiotherapist, this role teaching to me the importance of organisation, but also providing me with insight on how to build a small business. The last job during my studies (my studies were long) was co-founding a startup, Sunmana. Sunmana was a project funded by the US Government to bring solar energy to the remote, impoverished Marshall Islands. It was here where I first got bit by the startup bug. I was thrown into a whirlwind position of knowing nothing, and learning everything - and quick.
Upon my graduation reality suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. “Ok Genna” I thought, with a deep breath… “your CV resembles a first year dorm room - a complete shambled mess of Baywatch meets Unicef, combined with a dose of Judge Judy and a pinch of Dr Phil…” Who on earth would hire me, and above all what I would I do? After a few weird interviews in multiple areas, and an array of bizarre confusing “no” responses such as “you are too qualified for this job, we are worried you will get bored” or “It’s clear you can multi-task, but we need more strength in this area.” Miraculously after a few weeks, I was able to find an entry level job for the New Zealand Government, from where I was lucky enough to have a boss who believed in me and my ability and who promoted me four times in the space of a year. Before I knew it was heading a team on very special projects in the area of counter proliferation… Oh great… So now Baywatch, Unicef, Dr Phil, Judge Judy meets the Spooks. Having by this time met my (now) Belgian husband, we decided that if things weren’t complicated enough, it would be a fun idea to move to other side of the world.
Baywatch, Unicef, Dr Phil, Judge Judy meets the Spooks just went International…
Before leaving to Europe, I knew the playing field would be tough… My husband already had a first class Masters Degree in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Security… I knew a Masters Education would prove a necessity. After weeks of preparing a lengthy application to a leading Brussels International School (a University of Kent initiative), I was over the moon to find out a few weeks before leaving, I had been accepted into the International Conflict and Global Security Masters Program. The career jungle gym was in full swing by this time with many, including myself, still unsure as to what I really wanted to do in my life. All I knew was that I wanted to work on a project that truly mattered to the world (I know I know it sounds cliché Miss Universe don’t gag too much), something that created positive change be it in the field of neuropsychology for which is a massive passion of mine, or international relations.
After kicking off and inspiring first semester of Advanced Conflict Analysis focusing on the unfolding Arab Spring uprising and the rise of the Twitter Revolution, I got a part-time job for a political consultancy company right across the street from the European Parliament. I can’t say it the best job I have ever had… In fact, being a young, foreign woman in a male dominated political setting opened my eyes for the first time to work place sexism, and the battles women face in corporate settings. Despite this, I am grateful for this insight for which serves as a motivator in my efforts of promoting women today. Anyway - that is for another day.
During this time, my mornings were spent on campus, my afternoons were spent at work and evenings were spent helping start was is now known as Tadaweb. Before I knew it, I was spending more time on Tada than work or school. Eventually, we decided it was the right time to incorporate as a company. It was a big day. The original plan was for me work for Tada in the early mornings and evenings, while working a full time job at an American company based Luxembourg. After successfully negotiating a good contract, I got a phone call the day before I was to start to say that I needed a “special visa.” At that point, I accepted fate and decided to take the plunge into financial insecurity by joining together with co-Founder to start Tadaweb full time….
Starting a company was a crazy ride and to this day I truly believe that having a crazy “Baywatch meets Unicef, combined with a dose of Judge Judy and a pinch of Dr Phil” aka a “jungle gym CV” has much better equipped me for success than any MBA could have. Working multiple, practical jobs through out my studies taught me how to value money, how to focus on what matters, to be resourceful and very flexible. While at the same time, having a diverse higher education that focuses on how humans interact with the world, what makes them tick and how they are driven ensures I can build a company that makes people want to strive; coupled of course with a legal, internationally focused side of how the world works has been highly valuable to the company.
To sum up, next time you are looking to hire someone, don’t judge fully on their CV or university education. Understand what makes them tick, talk to them about where they want to go and what drives them. Even here at Tada, two of our team leaders entered into the company in completely different positions to where they are now. Their drive, resourcefulness and passion led them to their new roles, for which they are rockstars in…