Aged 9 years old I was asked this very question and I had absolutely no idea. I winged it (quite literally) and told an assembled school hall that I was going to be an air stewardess – it turns out I loathe flying …
No ultimate vision, no career dream, no check-list of stepping stones ever emerged for me. I may be an avid planner, but I've never had a grand career plan. Ok, so not an approach I'd necessarily advocate, but I've always just looked for things that pique my interest and gone with them.
In all honesty, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted out of a career. I knew I didn't want mundane, I wanted a challenge, to keep learning and to help people.I didn't know I wanted to work in internal communications – I didn't know it existed as a job - but here are the five steps it took me to find out what I wanted to be when I grew up (arguably of course I've never actually grown up but that's another blog altogether).
Step 1 – I need a job
After doing abysmally in my exams the thought of being a police constable was knocked firmly on the head – I quite liked the idea of a uniform. But in a right time/right place fashion I was lucky enough to get a job working with the Armed Forces in a social care and welfare role – a very up front and personal position that involved supporting people during their worst life moments. I absolutely relished the way that no two days were the same and I was able to make a real practical difference to peoples lives. The logical step was completing a degree in social policy and criminal justice - tick.
Step 2 – a crossroads
A forced move from Germany to Scotland made me rethink my options and while I did that I was offered a temp role working in a sports marketing and PR team. Looking back it really was the days of Bridget Jones, faxing press releases, stuffing hundreds of annual reports into envelopes, hosting lavish events, rubbing shoulders with VIPs. These two worlds were not so far apart though, both social care and communications rely on making the complex understandable while telling and selling the vision.
Step 3 – the internal communications moment
Scotland is the best place in the world (sorry other home nations) and I had no intention of leaving, so I applied to join the Scottish Government, I wanted 'in' on devolution. My experience of working in communications and social care bagged me an assignment in internal communications for this milestone moment in history - the parliament was being formed, a first minister appointed and the organisation expanded in remit and size. The pace in internal communications was lively with no day the same, I was negotiator, problem solver, channel manager, project manager, strategist, working with the permanent secretary, leadership teams around the organisation and political leaders. The real buzz was being right in with your audience so the feedback (good and bad) was instant.It was epic, I was an internal communications convert and devoured the specialist training on offer.
Step four – growing up in communications
I'd become a communications all-rounder with a passion for internal communications. And I was to take that into my future roles heading up communication teams, first in the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (shout out to the legend Rosaleen Kelly a fellow internal communications professional that I worked with there), then into the NHS working across specialisms, but anyone who's worked with me will know I will always put internal communications at the heart of any project. Throughout the decades I kept learning and although I was, and still am, passionate about internal communications and recognise it's an essential part of communications, having a good broad understanding across specialisms is invaluable, so I balanced my development across public relations, marketing, public affairs and change communications too.
Step 5 – make your mind up time
By 2017 I'd finally completed a masters in strategic communications and public relations, but I did allow myself the luxury of doing a dissertation in internal communications. In 2016 I was faced with a tough decision, I was asked to go back to a dedicated internal communications role – could I, should I? Hell yes! I got to mix it up adding in public affairs, events and change communications; it's a dream job. Every role, course and qualification has added to the way I approach it.And in 2019, the lovely @comms2point0 people gave me a Lifetime Achievement #UnAward, so I guess that means I've legitimately had a career and not just a job.
So back to the original question, what to be when I grew up. Well, not an air stewardess, nor a PC it transpires, but plot twist not so much #IChoseIC but #ICChoseMe. It's not what I originally trained for but it turns out that a decade in social care followed by a job in communications equipped me well for the pace, vitality, creativity and strategic thinking internal communications demands of its specialists. I can't remember it being a career choice when I started out, but it definitely is now and something I'd recommend considering – but then I am biased!