The Interesting Women Interview (#4): Sam Sparrow

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It's time for another Interesting Women Interview! I am loving working on this series and from the comments and tweets from you lovely lot, it seems like you're enjoying it too. I'm on the hunt for some new ace ladies to feature so if there is anyone you'd love me to interview please leave me a comment and let me know. Today's interview is with the amazing Sam Sparrow, who I came across when I first started writing for The High Tea Cast (now Unsorry Magazine). As well as running a highly successful online lifestyle magazine and podcast, Sam has also forged a super interesting career in the third sector. We chatted about women in tech, inspiration and work/life balance - enjoy!

1) Hi Sam! I'm lucky enough to have been working with you on the internet for a little while now, but for any of my readers who don't know you, please could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your line of work?

I live a bit of a duel life, which I think is pretty much the same as many bloggers, vloggers and podcasters. In my day job, I’ve worked in the third sector for over 12 years, largely supporting social change through the lens of volunteering. This has ranged from developing programmes to get professionals into the classroom to teach things like law and economics, working inside a global company and supporting employees to connect to causes they care about and most recently I founded a social enterprise supporting young volunteers to take their first steps into employment. I’ve just embarked on quite a bit of a career change, in that I’ve moved to a role where I'll be supporting charities from across the UK to use technology to solve big social problems. At all other times, I’m a blogger and podcaster, working my side hustle at every moment I can!

2) You've built an incredible career for yourself merging two of your passions - the social sector and tech. Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do? How has your career evolved as technology continues to change and innovate?

It’s weird, in that I’ve come to my career in quite a roundabout way - I’ve definitely taken the scenic route! I’ve always been interested in charity and volunteering and have been a volunteer for as long as I can remember. I actually went off to university to study Law to become a barrister, but it became clear during my degree that it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. It was a risk to leave behind the opportunity to follow a well thought of profession, but I believe strongly in being passionate about what you do for a living.

I’ve always been interested in technology, but as a young woman there were limited opportunities for me to develop the knowledge and skills required for a career through traditional educational settings (I’m 33 now!). Digital careers were not as prevalent when I was growing up, and IT/electronics courses were seen as solely for the boys. In many ways I had no idea that I would get the opportunity to combine my passions with a technology career at my age - I remember dial up internet, teaching myself HTML and having a livejournal blog as a teenager, but essentially believed that really I had missed the boat. However, because of the open nature of technology, the ability to teach yourself and the fact that it really is consuming most areas of our lives my career has gone from going to tweet-ups to find out more about digital right through to running a technology based social enterprise.

There are many many perceived and real barriers for women working in technology, and because of my mixed career background I have been able to forge my own path and get in through the back door!

3) Your most recent role has involved working with young people and helping them get into the world of work. What tips do you have for anyone trying to launch their career in the current climate? How important do you think voluntary work is for building skills?

I don’t envy any 18-24 year olds trying to start their careers right now, and when I graduated in 2004, things were tough but manageable. I think there are lots of things you can do to make yourself more employable – here are a few, but tweet me @SamRSparrow if you want more advice!

  • Get some experience – it doesn’t have to be paid! Get volunteering (check out vinspired.com or do-it.org to find local opportunities), start your own blog, vlog, podcast or anything that you are passionate about and show employers you are prepared to role your sleeves up and get stuck in!
  • Take a critical look at your CV. It’s official 99% of the population are TERRIBLE at CVs. Don’t feel bad, it’s the most unnatural way of selling yourself. There are many tips online, but try and look it over with a friend before you send it anywhere. The same goes for cover letters and applications.
  • Get LinkedIn. I know I know, LinkedIn is kind of the worst but it is helpful for career networking and showing your skills to employers.
  • On the subject of networking, get yourself out there. There are hundreds of free events every week – check out meetup.com and eventbrite to find ones in your industry.
  • Prospectively apply. If there are brands or companies you admire, there is no reason not to get in touch. Make sure your communication is to the point, perfectly presented and articulates why you’d love to work for them – you might not get a job the next day but this sort of approach sticks in the mind!

4) Alongside your day job you have also been running the ace online magazine, The High Tea Cast, for the past 5 years. What inspired you to start it? How has running HTC complimented your day job?

Honesty time – The High Tea Cast came at a time of my life where I was bored, lonely and directionless. Lea and I met through a mutual friend who ran a podcast we both featured on, and as a result of meeting, practically becoming best friends almost over night and both needing something more in our lives HTC was born. HTC is basically our friendship laid bare on the internet! Aside, from that, we were fed up of reading the usual bullshit fed to women in the likes of Cosmo and The Daily Mail and we wanted to see something that inspired us. So we started it.

The High Tea Cast has complimented my day job in every possible way. It gave me confidence when I had none, it taught me new skills and allowed me to publicise myself more broadly and finally it gave me the biggest network of supportive friends without whom I would not be doing what I am today.

5) The High Tea Cast is undergoing a bit of a transformation at the moment - can you tell us a bit more about the changes and the reasons behind them?

 It is indeed! We just relaunched 5 years after we started The High Tea Cast. We found that sites like ours often died a death after the 5 year mark, and both Lea and I had had a difficult and busy few months with work and life in general so it felt like the right time to step back and review where we were going. We’ve grown up a lot with our blog and so have our readers and so we spent a day in our PJs thinking about what we wanted to read now and went from there

So we rebranded and tweaked our content and are now Unsorry Magazine! With this new phase in our blog life, we're on a mission to celebrate greatness, give the world what-for and be there for our readers during life’s best and worst bits. We try to tackle things in the way only your best friend knows how to – honestly, and to the point. We hope to help readers navigate difficult issues, improve their mindset and support them to live their most unapologetic life.

6) You're someone I really look up to career wise because of your determination, passion and creativity. Who inspires you and why?

 I guess this sounds super corny, but honestly my Mum is the most inspiring woman I know – she works hard, is genuine and is a caring and generous friend. All the things I want to be when I grow up. Aside from that, I’m surrounded by incredible kick ass women on the Unsorry team who I’ve met through the internet who are all passionate, talented and working their side hustle and daily I take my inspiration from all of them. Often, inspiration to reach your goals can be found right on your doorstep.

7) You've achieved so much already in your career (including being recognised as one of London's most influential people last year!). What would you like to tick off the list in the next couple of years?

 For me I want to be able to get to grips with my new role and make the most impact I can with that, but I’ve always got one eye on the future. In the Autumn I’m relaunching my own website and a new podcast based around careers and leadership, especially for women so that more of us can have the confidence and tools to have the lives and careers we dream of. My hope is that one day I’ll move into careers and life coaching and put everything I’ve learnt in my own career into practice!

8) Finally - you've worked your arse off to get to where you are, how do you balance work with the other aspects of your life?

 Terribly! I’m still learning, like we all are, on this one. I have an extremely patient husband and it sounds silly but I invest my spare cash in a regular cleaner which frees up weekends for my projects, relaxing and doing fun stuff with my family (I absolutely believe in the power of outsourcing where you can!). I am also really organized with a mega stationery habit, and I’ve just moved all my lists over to a project management tool called Trello which really helps me focus not only on my big goals, but on all the little nagging chores. Finally, it really helps to take time away from the phone, the screen and the “big lists”. I do this by hopelessly flailing around in downward dog on a yoga mat – hey it doesn’t look pretty but it works!