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Career Lessons Learnt from my Cat

By Joe O'Brien, on 16 June 2020

Read time: 4 minutes

Written by Susanne Stoddart, Recruitment and Selection Advice Manager, UCL Careers.

Aloof. Disloyal. Present dead rodents at the feet of their favourite humans to signal gratitude. These are just a few of the challenging behaviours associated with cats and, let’s face it, they hardly set our feline friends apart as employee of the month material. Due to the current situation, I’ve spent a lot of time recently intruding on my cat Florence’s personal space (i.e. I’ve been working from my home). I’m now fully accustomed to a work day punctuated by a friendly headbutt here or a sudden lunge across my desk in pursuit of something only Florence can see there. However, keeping an eye on Florence isn’t just a health and safety matter, it has also become a major event in my lockdown calendar. So, in a more light-hearted post today, I thought I’d share some career lessons that I’ve taken from my spectatorship. It turns out cats may be more career-savvy that I once thought.

Be Curious

I’m on a video call? So is Florence. Amazon delivery left in the bush? She’s onto it. “Curiosity killed the cat” goes that famous proverb, but let me just say I disagree. Florence turns 16 in August and she’s spent a lifetime involving herself in other people’s business. I think that not-quite-so-famous proverb, “curiosity built the career”, is closer to the truth, and you could also channel the feline innate sense of curiosity to start getting ahead with your career thinking.

There are lots of ways that you can explore your career curiosities this summer, whether you know the sort of career you’re looking for, or you don’t know where to start. It may be useful for you to find out about what UCL graduates have gone on to do following their degrees, or explore different roles and the skills required for them. At the alumni panel events that we ran during the 2019/20 academic year, alumni representing a range of sectors consistently highlighted that the process of taking up different roles, even if they didn’t turn out to be dream jobs, was invaluable. It enabled them to explore their career values further and to develop their skill set before moving on. So, try to enjoy exploring and keep an open mind!

Build your Network

I used to subscribe to that view of cats as aloof and distant creatures. I thought the affection that Florence periodically bestowed on me was an exclusive “thank you” for all that I do for her. But over the years I’ve spotted her being stroked by inhabitants of No.10 across the way, sitting on the lap of the lady opposite and, on several occasions, being held in the arms (in the actual arms!) of my neighbour’s niece. Rather than criticising her disloyalty, I’ve come to admire Florence’s networking skills as she widens her net of potential feeders and endeavours to keep them warm.

The current situation has prevented face-to-face networking, but you can adapt and continue to develop your own networks online at this time. Use platforms such as LinkedIn to make connections with employers, follow organisations and gather the latest recruitment news. Why not also make use of UCL’s Alumni Online Community to connect with former students working in sectors that you make be interested in? Use this platform as an opportunity to seek advice and resources that might help with identifying opportunities and career planning.

Develop Resilience and Adaptability  

Even at the age of almost 16, I’m struck by Florence’s ability to react quickly, bounce back from many a crashing thud and find creative solutions to problems. For example, when Florence caught me (the problem) watching cat videos (on my lunch break) last week her creative response was to lie across the laptop so no one was watching anything but her. Other times, I’ve seen Florence flip from the neighbourhood networker discussed above to almost complete self-sufficiency. Take note because that skill of independence is incredibly in-demand right now as many organisations have made the shift to remote working. Take a look at our recent blogpost on Virtual Internships and how they can help you to develop highly sought after employability skills including independent working.

In the current situation, we are all being required to draw upon our resilience and resourcefulness, and here at UCL Careers we have lots of ideas on how you can strengthen and utilise these attributes in your skills development, career planning or job hunting. Go ahead and checkout our recent blogposts on Free Digital Resources to Upskill Yourself from Home, Career Lessons from the Covid-19 Response and Building Resilience in Your Job Hunt.

What Next?

I’ll keep watching Florence for any further career insights she cares to send my way. In the meantime, remember that UCL Careers is here to support you virtually this summer, whichever stage of your career planning you are currently at. You can book in for a short guidance appointment to discuss any of your ideas further with a Careers Consultant.

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