How To Get Ahead In Your Career By Thinking Like An Entrepreneur

We look at one humanitarian worker’s accidental career path and how they made it work for them, because doing what you love isn’t as simple as studying your passion and applying for a specialised role.

For the average millennial, doing what you love can actually mean wearing several different hats at once, and doing it from a beach in Bali. #digitalnomad. As the traditional landscape of what constitutes a ‘successful’ career has changed, how are we changing with it? We speak to Catherine Greenhalgh, whose career trajectory reflects the kind of entrepreneurial world we live, play, and work in.

Entrepreneurial thinking and shift in career mindsets are having profound affects on the working life of millennials – giving us the freedom to do what we love (should we choose) while developing their industry exposure and professional growth.

Catherine Greenhalgh is a humanitarian aid worker for World Vision UK. When she isn’t applying for grants or funding, Catherine spends a lot of her time in the field working in developing countries and regions that are in need of humanitarian aid. Foreign Aid funding cuts are frequent, because #politics. Consequently, it means it is a competitive field with few jobs available for the taking, and therefore a little extra hustling is necessary to kick-start a career in development.

After speaking with Catherine about her career trajectory it becomes clear very quickly that she hasn’t stuck to the traditional rules when it comes to navigating the professional world. In fact, it wasn’t even a world she’d intended to work in, but somehow found herself kicking goals in. Her ability to embrace opportunities, see past limitations and negotiate, reflects the kind of entrepreneurial attitude most millenials are taking with their career choices.

We look at how this attitude towards your career can have you flying high in no time.

Think like an entrepreneur

Startups like Airbnb began with two guys renting out 3 air mattresses for $80. BlaBlaCar ridesharing connects travelers looking to hitch a lift to and from destinations for the price of petrol, and the concept was developed by a broke college student trying to find a ride back to his family home on a busy night.

In other words, we’re in the age of entrepreneurial thinking. Start up stories like these prove that entrepreneurial thinking is the upswing on the new corporate ladder. Forget meeting on the golf course and schmoozing at stuffy fine-dining establishments. Getting ahead is about being creative and open to how you get there. What happens when you roll the dice and see where they land?

Take a risk already, geeze

Catherine found herself in this situation soon after launching into the graduate working world. “I kind of fell into humanitarian work. I hadn’t considered a career working in small communities, or in development-speak, ‘in the field’ before, and was interested to see what kind of career a hands-on role working with people and communities could offer,” says Catherine. After studying International Diplomacy at University while volunteering at non-government organisation (NGO) Oaktree, she had the dream to work in politics and make significant changes from an official position inside a government role.


Catherine. Image supplied.

But that’s not what happened. “I applied for a management job I saw advertised at World Vision Australia, because there wasn’t a lot else being advertised and I figured I had nothing to lose. Even though I was under-qualified for it and didn’t have the humanitarian experience they were looking for, I applied anyway. I didn’t get the role but going for it meant they offered me a job that matched my level of experience with similar projects to the management role I applied for.”

It was unexpected, but “falling into this role and taking on a new challenge in a different direction meant that I had unknowingly kicked-started my development journey,” she says.

Learning to let go of career trajectory expectations is a way that most entrepreneurs work. Taking a chance, being a bit of a hustler, and seeing where it all takes you is the name of the game.

Careers aren’t linear and everything’s an opportunity

“I’m a natural risk-taker and I try to see everything as an opportunity,” says Catherine. Having this outlook meant she was smart about how she used her time at World Vision. “I’m happy that I applied for that original job because from there I positioned myself for new contracts, promotions, and projects through networking, research, and buying a few coffees here and there. A lot of internal and external opportunities were unlocked from the role itself and the doors that it opened”.

Back yourself

As with most entrepreneurial fields, contracts can be short, fairly infrequent and do not always come with the security of a traditional nine-to-five office gig. This means that being open to new directions often means negotiating your own terms too, which can be a daunting thing to get comfortable with.

Asking to sit in on the meeting with high profile clients? Scary. Asking for a raise? Straight-up terrifying. Learning these kinds of skills early in your career will make it easier to negotiate bigger contracts, bigger opportunities, and reap greater long-term rewards. And it doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds, because the key to power negotiating is a simple one: having the confidence to ask for what you want.

“You can be a brilliant young professional, but if you don’t show that, how will anyone know?” asks Catherine. “Confidence helps us push boundaries and negotiate extended contracts, higher pay, and new projects because it means we aren’t afraid to step-up to the plate of opportunity and show people why we deserve it and will work hard to get it.”

Catherine believes success is all about backing yourself. “I think backing yourself gives you the personal motivation to do a job or a task well, and the more positive and negative experiences you gain in negotiating for yourself, the more personal confidence you will build for the next opportunity or even challenge.”

Say yes, even if it scares you or you don’t think you’re ready

The worst-case scenario is that you receive a no. Best case? You can be taken to places you would never have dreamed your career would take you. Catherine is now the Grants and Portfolio Manager for East Africa at World Vision UK. So you know, it worked out.

Youth Centre Opening_EC IMNCH2

Youth Centre Opening. Image supplied.

“I have sat in the dirt of a market in the middle of Ethiopia, held the hand of a dying elderly woman in Mozambique, used hundreds of very questionable toilets, and played many a game with children in the Solomon Islands,” says Catherine. “I lived and worked in Papua New Guinea for six months. And, last year, after I had only been at the job a couple of months, there was an opportunity to go to Brussels for Gender training with the EU. Say yes to everything!”

This brand of thinking inspires new projects

So you’ve got an idea of where you’re going and you’re open with how you get there, leaping at the unexpected opportunities that present themselves as you travel along. What else keeps the diversity of a career in development challenging after a while?

“Embracing the diversity of a career in development has inspired me to take on more side-projects that can make a difference on a smaller, more personal scale. I started a company called Lumi with two of my industry colleagues. Lumi is a startup and passion project that incites women to reach their full potential professional and personally through events, coaching, and training.”

Applying entrepreneurial ways of thinking to how we approach professional development and career satisfaction can ease the fear of failure and foster new opportunities that may not have arisen unless explored fully. Make those casual coffee meetings, ask to be involved with bigger projects, and negotiate the kind of career development that you hope for. And don’t be afraid to apply for a job you think you aren’t qualified for, you never know where it could take you.

Claire Dalgleish woke up like this. She’s a freelance writer and art curator who currently lives in Sydney. You can read more on her blog art/writing/projects and follow her via @art.writing.projects.