One technique that promises at least a conversation starter on the CV is the alternative course. Hobbies, pastimes and side qualifications may not feel directly relevant next to your ACA, CFA or MBA trophies, but they could set you apart. Crucially, the skills you learn in the process could inadvertently give you an edge at work. Here are a few recommendations.
The most obvious. London is the world’s most cosmopolitan financial sector, yet perhaps the most woefully unequipped on the language front. Half of it is the way our language is taught. As English is so internationalised, we’re not inclined to have a steady stream of Hindi blockbusters to watch from an early age, we don’t have constant YouTube adverts in Mandarin and we don’t have German rap music in the charts (baby boomers, drop your weapons).
Why it's worth doing: Learning a second language not only helps level-up and re-wire your brain, but perhaps more importantly, it gives you a unique insight into a foreign culture. Turns of phrase, or popular expressions are more insightful into your client’s way of thinking then any number of internal briefs. Want to know what your client is thinking? Learn a few paragraphs of their native language.
2. Social media
The ultimate divider at Friday drinks. The 24 year-old grad will tell you social media is utterly integral to a successful business. Your director will grunt agreement, but will likely still regard it as simply spewing the odd blog post, the odd tweet onto the company feed daily. Here’s the thing: social media is a science. Luckily, it’s a very accessible science, and there’s a multitude of easy online courses out there to get you thinking about insights and analytics rather than cat memes.
Why it's worth doing: PR, marketing, advertising, corporate comms. The lines are blurring with ever increasing inertia and social media is the hub at the centre of the spider’s web. Understanding how a company positions its shopfront: - are we the cutting edge risk takers? Are we the safe pair of hands? Are we all about b2b discretion? Are we actively promoting to millennials? - will give you a more fundamental understanding of company culture. Further: finding relevant articles, forums, thought pieces and columns and using them to aggregate and build your own social presence is arguably the most tangible example of “commercial” and “wider industry knowledge” you can have to back up that CV bullet.
Try: There’s a multiple of free online courses: Facebook Business Manager and Google Digital Garage are two examples, but, as the names suggest, are heavily slanted to one aspect of social media. We’d recommend Hootsuite. It’s a social media platform, but downloading it also gives you an option to enroll on the course. It’s around £30, but it’s worth it: you’ll gain insights across several different social media platforms on how to promote, best case examples, and how different social media platforms work, content and engagement wise.
3. Get creative
The widest, arguably most leftfield and best conversation starter of the lot. Do something truly creative. Drawing, painting, creative writing, short film courses, or even music.
Why it's worth doing: As the least directly business-related category, these hobbies will take you out of your head. In the age of remote working and full connectivity, it’s hard to fully switch off. But sitting in a studio trying to master a drumbeat will both focus and distract you in a way no Netflix and Merlot session can. You’ll find you can approach subsequent work challenges from a different angle or viewpoint. Further, creativity isn’t specific: getting your head around composition, painting or photography will work a set of mental muscles you can also put to use restructuring a go-to-market plan.
Try: One of the best industries when it comes to alternative, online-based courses is music. Try Point Blank - a London based music school that does courses in all things electronic music (which is great as it’s laptop and headphones based. No guitar, piano or suffering spouse next door needed): including learning scales, chords, drum beats and even the art of DJing. Sound too young? Carl Cox is 54. There’s no excuse.
4. Sports teams
We get it. Chances are you already “do fitness” - but a 25 minute run twice a week at the local gym does little for your mind. Similarly, the commute to work keeps the midweek beers off, but that’s about it. Have you considered joining a sports team? You know, one where you play sport on a Saturday morning, then have a perfect excuse to spend all Saturday in the pub?
Why they’re worth doing: You may not have played football, hockey, rugby or shinty since uni. However, that’s probably true of a proportion of the team playing. Sports teams tick all of the hiring manager’s boxes: you’re a team player, you’re dedicated, you’re competitive. If you play rugby there’s an automatic assumption you’re probably quite public school, polite and extremely well spoken. Meanwhile, you show up, play for a 40 minute half, and enjoy the discounted beers.
Try: There’s a myriad of sport clubs always looking for new hires. Try the relevant section of Gumtree
There’s plenty out there. A solid chunk of it is free. You’ll become more rounded as a human being and better at thinking big-picture at work. Play it up on your CV and get noticed. Because there’s more to your out of office life than “cooking, travel and foreign cultures”.....