I spend a great deal of my time fielding questions from people asking how to get noticed. They want to know how to get support for an entrepreneurial project in their large organisation. Or what they should be doing if they want to be fast-tracked to management. How to get a job, promotion, or a board position. The list goes on. There is constant pressure to be doing all the ‘right things’, talking to the ‘right people’, and mixing in the ‘right circles’. We also need to be reading the ‘right publications’ and constantly keep track of social media feeds. I agree that all of this helps build toward success, to an extent.

My advice?

It is vital to be informed. But to all those who are doing ‘all the right things’ relating to their career ambitions, it doesn’t always need to be all about the career ladder. My advice is to get a side gig. Thinking about other people’s challenges or something other than yourself, will do you and your career good. It provides perspective, adds skills you otherwise might not develop, and allows you to resonate with people on a more human level.

Why is a side gig important?

Career focus is unequivocally important. However, a good CV and a personality are built from more than this. You learn as much from non-work experiences as those at work. Life skills count. I have always based my hiring, as much (if not more), based on the face-to-face conversation I have with a prospective employee, rather than the candidate’s CV or skills. For so many of us, career goals and aspirations take up the lion share of our weekdays and weekends. And that is without even taking into account the years of education we likely completed, extra curricula activities we may have focused on, and time spent in work experience during our younger years. As we get older, we risk it all becoming about the job.

How could a side gig help me?

We constantly reflect on our professional and personal ambitions and what we would like to achieve in the year ahead. This could be focusing on networking at industry events, joining groups on LinkedIn, or following leaders on Twitter. We are always looking for ways to secure a step up – whether that be returning to work after an absence, securing a promotion, seeking out a new job, or starting a new business. But the old adage of ‘all work and no play makes jack the dull lad’ rings true if most of our time is spent on work – and in my opinion, to our professional disadvantage.

What is your side gig?

In 2014 I visited Zambia as UNICEF UK’s first business mentor. The programme seeks to provide financial, enterprise, and employability skills to young people in communities where opportunities are limited. I’m involved with plenty of projects and charities I am passionate about. This combination of an international NGO and a corporate powerhouse allowed me to take my passion for entrepreneurialism. I was able to participate in some small way in changing the world for the better.

How has it helped you?

It has made me a better, more informed person on youth unemployment and what is needed to combat it. By simply talking to people born into circumstances that make life somewhat more challenging, I gained a whole new perspective on the issue. Everything I discussed relating to work, family, and life echoed those of these people. It was all about seeking a better future through access to opportunity.

What did your visit teach you?

My visit did many things for me, in my professional and personal life. It motivated me to get more involved with the project. It emphasised the importance of committed people, entrepreneurs, INGOs, and corporates working together. Furthermore, it reminded me why I continue to build EnterpriseJungle, the business I co-founded. My ‘side gig’ facilitates a powerful voice at many tables on entrepreneurialism. The business promotes search and discovery in large enterprises. This allows greater connectivity between employees.

What should I do to find a side gig?

Think about defining conversations you have had with people who have truly inspired you. Or an occasion where you have inspired someone yourself. Explore what’s out there to nourish your mind and soul, and get involved. I assure you, that you will feel enriched in all aspects of your life—not just in the office.

Emma Sinclair co-founder of EnterpriseJungle, serial entrepreneur (the youngest person to have floated a company on the London Stock Exchange), and Unicef UK’s first business mentor. Follow her @ES_Entrepreneur

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