The benefit of side effects

Emma Sinclairspend a great deal of my time fielding questions from people asking how to get noticed, how to get support for an entrepreneurial project, what they should be doing if they want to be fast-tracked to management, how to get a promotion, board position… you get the picture.

The list goes on, but for many diligent people, ensuring you are doing all the right things, talking to the right people and mixing in the right circles while reading the right publications and the right social media is essential. This is particularly true of the property industry, which is notoriously cliquey.

It is vital to be informed. But my advice to people who are doing all the right things is that it doesn’t always need to be all about the career ladder. In my opinion, you need to get a side gig.

It doesn’t matter how busy you are in a new job, studying at school or college, working in a start-up, as a junior in the job of your dreams or in a management or board position in a large enterprise, 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 communicate with people on a far more human level.

Career focus is undoubtedly important, but a CV and a personality are about more than just grades, academic accomplishments and qualifications. You learn as much from non-work interactions as from the work ones. I have always hired as much (if not more) based on a conversation as I do on CVs and skills. Of course you may need to have specific skills for your role – but that’s not all you need.

For many of us, career goals and aspirations take up the lion’s share of our weekdays and weekends – as did the years of education we completed, extracurricular activities we may have focused on and work experience in our younger years.

I will always remember my final-round interview at NM Rothschild, the investment bank I eventually chose to join as a graduate. Non-executive director Lord Armstrong (a highly respected civil servant and secretary of the Cabinet for Margaret Thatcher) asked me about my job at McDonald’s instead of my qualifications or previous summer’s internship in a bank. It demonstrated my work ethic – which was what he was most interested in. It was a way I stood out in a crowded basket of undergraduates desperate for a job.

As we get older, we risk it all becoming about the job. But the old adage of “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” rings true if most of our time is spent on work – and in my opinion, to our professional disadvantage. My side gigs take me outside property: my father, hero (and best source of career advice), Neil, co-founded the infamous PROPS, which has to date raised £9m to buy disabled and disadvantaged children wheelchairs that they so desperately need for independence.

Further afield, last year I visited Zambia as a Building Young Futures’ business mentor. A partnership between Unicef and Barclays, it seeks to provide financial, enterprise and employability skills to young people in communities where opportunities are limited. This combination of an international NGO and a corporate powerhouse allows me to take my passion for entrepreneurship and participate in some small way in changing the world for the better.

It took no time at all to commit – what an opportunity – but I can assure you I don’t have free time to pop to Africa for field trips. I made time. It has made me a better, more informed person on youth unemployment and what is needed to combat it by talking to people no different from you or me but born into circumstances or geographies that make life somewhat more challenging. And yet everything I discussed relating to work, family and life echoed those of the people I live and work with every day. It was all about seeking a better future through access to opportunity.

And it has done many things. It has motivated me to get more involved, emphasised the importance of committed people, entrepreneurs, NGOs and corporates working together and it reminds me why I continue to build EnterpriseJungle, the business I co-founded. This side gig facilitates a powerful voice at many tables on entrepreneurship, while the business promotes search and discovery in large enterprises, allowing greater connectivity between employees. When interesting people connect, interesting things happen, whether it be through EnterpriseJungle, through a conversation with a friend or colleague or a side gig you may adopt.

Think about defining conversations you have had with people who have truly inspired you. It is unlikely you were talking about the latest article in a magazine (much as I love the EG of course) or the industry conference you attended last spring. More likely it was an unexpected interaction with someone about something they are doing that resonated with you. Explore what’s out there to nourish your mind and soul – because I assure you that will feed a better, richer professional life, too.


Interact with Emma Sinclair on Twitter @ES_Entrepreneur