Shooting for the stars

With just a few days left until the deadline to enter this year’s CIH and Inside Housing Rising Stars competition, I thought I’d share my experience of being a finalist in last year’s competition.

I think it says a lot about a person even if they are just considering entering; it shows ambition, drive and an interest in the big picture. If you’re not sure whether to enter or not, I would say give it a go, if nothing else it will show your employer that you are serious about your career in housing and hopefully you will enjoy and learn something from the process of putting the submission together.

I entered the Rising Stars competition for the first time about 4 years ago, I was only about 24 at the time with 2 years in housing under my belt, but as the entry question appealed to me I thought I’d have nothing to lose by researching the topic and submitting an entry. Needless to say, I wasn’t successful first time around, but I worked closely with the head of my department whilst drafting the submission which demonstrated to him my commitment and aspirations in my career.

After this first attempt at the competition, each year I kept my eye on the different entry questions and the journeys of all the finalists. Only in 2014 did the entry question capture my interest and I decided to have another go, again with the support and advice of the head of my department. We chatted many times about my submission ideas and various different drafts were prepared. I was torn between submitting what I thought the judges were looking for and my honest thoughts on the question. In the end, I went with the latter, with the view that I wanted to get through on the merit of my own ideas, not on BS! The only problem with this approach was that my response didn’t exactly answer the question so I was taking the risk of making life hard for myself in the next stages of the competition should I get through.

And one Friday afternoon, after a really difficult couple of days where everything that could have gone wrong, had gone wrong, I had a very surreal phone call to tell me I had made the final three and I would find out more in the next week what the competition would involve. For about the next three months, the apprentice style tasks took over my life; I am so grateful to all my colleagues who supported me and helped me find the time to put my all into these tasks. Be warned that as a finalist you will need more hours in your day and feel comfortable with last minute arrangements and requests. I have blogged previously about my experiences during each of the tasks we were asked to complete as finalists and there are a number of articles on the CIH, Inside Housing and Shelter websites.

What I learnt from completing these tasks and from the feedback I received following the competition, is that the competition is as much about how you express your ideas as it is what your idea is. I focused heavily on the practical rather than the theoretical side of my idea, whereas I think I should have had a balance of each. It is also important to remember, as with many things in life, it’s not what you know but who you know; Rising Stars involves a public vote and it seems this plays a significant part in deciding the winner so be sure to maximise every contact you have. Having a degree in politics also seems to help given the qualifications of previous winners.

And if you don’t win, don’t be dismayed. I was extremely surprised at how okay I was when I didn’t hear my name called out at the Housing Heroes ceremony. I’d put my all into every task and the thought of not winning put doubts in my mind about my capability as a housing professional and the ideas I had. But on reflection, I think many ideas will struggle to be universally popular, good ideas can be too challenging or controversial for many and what works in one local area might not work in another and so it is overlooked. But these are the solutions and ideas that we need to see in the sector and anyone who is championing such ideas can rightly consider themselves a rising star. I only have to think of the number of families that have a new, affordable home because of the work my team does and that is better than any trophy on offer.

I also learnt that if you’re serious about your career, go grab your own opportunities, don’t put all your eggs in the basket of winning a competiton and expect your career to sky rocket because of this alone. The housing sector is a wonderful place because it is full of wonderful people who are happy to help, all you have to do is ask. I have been amazed on several occasions by the response I’ve had from CEOs and senior housing colleagues that I have never met after tweeting them a request for info, support or to shadow them. I know a couple of other previous Rising Stars finalists who have said the same thing, if you want to shadow the housing minister or the CIH, NHF or any other CEO, just ask them, don’t think these opportunities are reserved from award winners only.

All the best if you are entering this year, enjoy the ride and don’t forget, you’re the driver, not a passenger.



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