‘Use your voice to continue to learn and grow’ – Interview with Hannah Graham for Talent Prep Academy

The Talent Prep Academy is on a mission to provide Gen Z & Millennials with the tools to become leaders in Careers & the Future Economy. I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Shayne Tshabalala (pictured below), the academy’s founder for one if its inaugural interviews.

Can you describe a bit about your journey to your career today? Where you’ve worked and where you are working now, and how you navigated that path?

Currently, I work as Advocacy Manager at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. My roles involve leading on the delivery and scale-up of the advocacy and community action strategy for the Girl Powered Nutrition (GPN) programme, empowering young women and girls to take action and speak out about malnutrition to influence decision-makers on a local, national and global scale.

It’s been an interesting journey to get here, and my interests weren’t always in politics. After arriving at Teesside University at 18 to study Computer Science with no interest in politics and with very little international and travelling experience, I came across the Students’ Union during my induction period. The following day my Course Leader announced that there were to be two course representatives to represent the cohort in discussions with the University and Students’ Union, and that they were to be one female, and one male representative. Being the only female on the course, I was instantly and unwillingly given the title.

Now, if I had known then what I know now about the fact that gender isn’t binary and this method excludes non-binary identities, I would have challenged this approach. At the time, I was a young, fresh-faced and naive undergrad who only really wanted to focus on my studies and nothing else. Nevertheless, I was committed to fulfil my duties and on my first meeting with the Students’ Union the first question I was asked was why I wanted to be the course representative for my class. I responded with dumbfoundment and reiterated the scenario from the appointment process in class. The Students’ Union were shocked by this revelation and in just a few short weeks of being a course representative I realised that as a student you can shape your education, and given the right opportunity people will listen.

That opened up a world of new possibilities which if we fast forward a few years led to me representing my University and speaking on behalf of my fellow students at NUS Conference, and then becoming Vice President of my Students’ Union just a few years later. I soon learnt that my real passion was in policy which led to me working for various campaigning and advocacy roles in Higher Education and the youth and voluntary sectors before moving to a more humanitarian and international development based role at WAGGGS which gives me the opportunity to not just develop young women and girls, but also travel the world.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced getting into your career and how did you overcome these challenges?

  • Ageism in the workplace: I think this is definitely something that will relate to many young people entering the workplace. When I worked in the Students’ Union and Higher Education world, especially as an elected officer I would face continous ageism from older staff members and University officials during meetings, conferences etc. I would overcome this by continuing to remind myself that even though it was sensitive, it was important to never let my age become an issue and if someone else made it an issue I was prepared to speak up and challenge others. I would always try to divert a conversation back to my innovative and fresh ideas and remind others that innovation is an asset, not a liability.
  • Moving to London: This was definitely a huge challenge for me for many reasons. Over-stimulation, saturation of opportunity and difficulty in channeling my skills into a path that was really right for me was very hard. I overcame this by surrounding myself with a great network of people and activities. I became a member of my local Green Party which enabled me to meet many different people with similar values and I would spend my weekends canvassing, campaigning or just going for a drink, well needed after a week in the city.
  • Career pivoting: In the 21st century, for many different reasons people are changing jobs more frequently than ever before and many also choose to make a complete career change or new path. I never really experienced this when I lived in the North of England as job loyalty definitely still exists there, but in London people seem to change jobs, friends and houses every three months! This took a while to get used to, and I do believe that loyalty still counts to a certain extent, but ultimately if you’re not happy in a role or don’t visualise any progression, pack up, pick yourself up and move on.

Can you tell us any tips and hacks you use to find and get jobs?

I would say that LinkedIn is a total blessing when it comes to finding a job. 87% of recruiters use LinkedIn as part of their candidate search. I sign up for email updates related to key words like policy, or advocacy and get notifications whenever there is a new job posted. You can let recruiters know that you’re available, just at the click of a button, and this isn’t shared with the wider world so your current employer need not know.

Build your network, everyone you come into contact with in a professional sense, don’t be afraid to connect with them. I think it’s definitely more impersonal than Facebook so people are 9 times out of 10 willing to connect. The trick is to also constantly update your profile on a weekly basis, and you’ll stay at the top of search results, and you’ll appear more active. I even use LinkedIn to research interviewers, or even my potential future boss before an interview.

Another tip is if there is a selection of organisations who you would like to work for, or even your dream to work for these companies – monitor them. Even if you’re not currently looking, sign up for job updates and monitor the salaries or ongoing job vacancies to gain a picture of what the hiring processes and organisation looks like ahead of time. Then when it comes to you applying for a job in the future, you’re first off the mark to getting your application in and you already know how long the previous person has been in the role and how long they take to recruit.

One final tip is think about what else can you do outside of your work that gives you relevant experience and ‘the edge’ over other candidates for future applications. Could you be a school governor, a charity trustee, volunteer for an organisation outside work etc? There are websites that you can register your preferences for who will do all the hard work and place you in an opportunity outside work that suits your interests.

Do you have any advice for Generation Z and Millennials entering the job market?

I think this generation has much more of an entrepreneurial spirit than the last, as the younger generation have grown up through the recession and have got a slightly different outlook on life. This is really great, and that spirit will ensure that people speak up when working practices aren’t to their preference, or when there’s something they disagree with, and they won’t settle for a poor work/life balance.

I think it’s so important to speak up and ask as many questions as possible, an interview is a two way conversation – if you ask questions and even challenge an employer in an interview you will appear interesting and invaluable to a performing team. It’s important you use your voice to continue to learn and grow. It’s much better than staying silent and making a mistake or an inaccurate assumption.

Any parting advice or final words?

I think some final advice from me is don’t worry too much if you’re not sure where you want to be in 10 years or what you’re looking for. I’ve learned that it’s ok to move around a bit if you find yourself in a job you’re not sure about. You don’t need to (and won’t) have it all figured out straight away, but you do have to put in the time and effort to be rewarded and that unfortunately, sometimes takes years.

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