Progress during isolation: Oli's Career Change

Oli Mitchell is an Escape Alumni from our Startup Accelerator in January 2018. He went on to launch the FinTech startup Moneycado and has since been pursuing other interests in FinTech, writing, and product management. oli career change

We spoke to him about how he’s making progress during isolation.

Most of us are going through a period of adjusting to being at home. How are you dealing with this new challenge?

When we’re stuck at home – especially while hiring in some sectors is reduced – it’s easy to feel a little stuck and maintaining momentum is tricky. So I’ve put some structure and accountability in place to keep myself motivated. 

I expected that I wouldn’t be busy working 40 hours a week during this time, so I’m creating my own work instead and sharing it publicly to give myself accountability. For example, I’ve set myself a challenge to build 12 startups in 12 weeks! Quantifying the challenge you set also helps to hold yourself accountable.

I also send a monthly newsletter to lots of industry contacts and my professional network, with updates on what I’m creating, learning and working on. Off the back of that, I’ve been getting some great engagement as well as requests for collaboration! 

So the extra time does bring its benefits if you use it wisely. To maintain balance with my personal and professional goals, I’ve set up a quarterly goals tracker and this has really helped me to stay on track with progress during isolation.

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What advice would you give to others looking to change career in these uncertain times?

There are 3 principles that have really helped me when trying to create job opportunities and applying for – or pitching myself for – work. 

1) Don’t wait for permission

No-one gives you permission to start becoming something, you just start and then people get on board with it. Just before the Startup Accelerator at Escape, I wrote a blog publicly stating that I was starting a business. This gave me accountability. 

I continued writing and publishing blogs about it on a weekly basis. People quickly adjusted and acted like this was the most normal thing for me to be doing in the world. It’s extremely liberating to tell yourself that you can just start something. Treat it like you’re trying on a new set of clothes and stepping into a new identity. People will adjust to it. There’s no need to apply for permission.

2) Rapidly apply what you learn

Naturally when making a transition, there is an enormous body of knowledge that you have no idea about. This was certainly the case for me moving from Banking to Tech. You feel a bit stupid when people are using acronyms you don’t understand! But find your current problem and focus on that.

Let’s say you want to know how to design a beautiful poster. The two extreme approaches here are: read all the theory in the world and not apply any of it, or just jump in without any idea, which is ok and gets you over the hump, but you’re missing out on learning from others and may lack key essentials. 

So the middle ground is to spend a couple of hours reading about the essential graphic design principles, then apply them and get a version out there for feedback. We started Moneycado with a chatbot. I focused on the essentials for building a chatbot, built it, then moved my learning onto understanding APIs, and applied that. The cycle was ‘oh we need to learn this specific thing, apply it, then learn that thing, apply it’ and so on. 

I’ve only been doing Tech for a couple of years now, but this cycle has helped me gain practical knowledge quickly. I love the phrase “people who understand the map and not the territory”. You can gaze upon a map for as long as you like, but until you’ve travelled through the territory you haven’t really understood it.

3) Spend 75% working,25% talking

Don’t spend too much time prospecting for roles. Instead, spend time learning about projects going on in your area of interest and get involved with them. This will allow you to talk about the work itself and make progress during isolation in a genuine way.

As of a few months ago, I’ve been writing a monthly newsletter and sharing that with connections and emails I collected while building Moneycado. I write about where I am, where I’m going, and what work I’ve been doing that month (whether paid or as a side project). Then, I invite others to engage and join in the conversation. A lot of the people who read and respond are professional contacts with good connections in my area of interest. So the conversation isn’t Hey I’m looking for work, can you help?, but This is work I’m doing and areas I’m interested in. What are your thoughts?. 

This leads to opportunities, further connections, substantive conversations and offers. I learnt a phrase during fundraising for Moneycado: the best way to get money is to ask for advice and the best way to get advice is to ask for money. And this relates to job applications, too. Build up trust and talk about the work, and opportunities will follow. It also avoids you having to sell yourself!

How do you make the most of LinkedIn to find opportunities to make progress during isolation?

I leverage LinkedIn a lot. It has an awesome algorithm where if one of your connections likes your content, it is shared with all of their connections. People often think content has to be purely professional, so if you inject some authenticity and creativity into what you’re sharing, there’s lots of potential to stand out from the crowd.

So I’m using formats like images and carousels and being authentic about the work I’m doing. The result of putting this effort in is that I’m regularly waking up to direct messages and new connections. The algorithm also rewards regular content, so don’t be too transactional about it – play the long game. Make progress during isolation by growing your network and you’ll set yourself up for bigger and better opportunities when restrictions are lifted and business working regularly again.

What’s the main advice you’d give to those looking to make career change progress during isolation?

Talk about yourself and your drives publicly.

People love hearing a personal story. All of the challenges people are going through during this pandemic are really interesting. Even more so if you’re trying to make a career change at this time. The external accountability you get when speaking in a public forum helps you to shift your identity and reframe yourself and your goals.

It’s a brave step to transition from work you don’t love to find work that fulfils you, and many others would be nervous to even start that journey, so don’t be afraid to share.

You have a personal story to tell. People will respond to it.

How do people sign up to your newsletter and connect with you?

Find out more about what I’m up to at olivermitchell.me and feel free to drop me a line at oli@olivermitchell.me to connect!

In the midst of this strange period, we’ve compiled a few free resources which could help you:

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