Lessons from opportunity call outs

Great people doing amazing work sometimes struggle to talk about themselves.

I have been involved in creating opportunity call-outs for African creatives, entrepreneurs and businesses and I thought to share what I have been learning. While each would have had its own entry criteria and goal, there are a few constants I have found:

Great people doing amazing work sometimes struggle to talk about themselves.

Being able to communicate what you are working on in simple terms is important. While some may ask you to submit a portfolio or a body of work to support your application, you won’t always be able to submit documents that show what you are trying to explain. It is worth your while to invest in the following

*An extensive bio that shares your background, education and experiences

*A short bio that has the key highlights and can be used to introduce you

*A bio that shares your (brand) story and isn’t technical

*A bio or biography is a summary of your life, professional background as well as your educational history. Remember that you should also have different bios for your different areas of interest. If you have a core skill such as strategy consulting, have a subspeciality, written books, are a speaker – you should have a bio for your career as an author, and one for your strategy consulting. This means that the focus of the bio should be surrounding your writing career and any accolades you have to do it. Other achievements can be briefly mentioned at the end.  A bio that doesn’t have a focus area mentioning everything you do can dilute your brand if you haven’t found a way to link them. Through working with various multi-passionate people I have found that there are ways of linking all of your interests, but the safer option is to focus on one thing, and touch on the others if they strengthen your application.

For example, if you were applying for an initiative on climate action with objectives to showcase a project through visual storytelling: As a professional working in the energy sector, it would be worth your while mentioning an interest or background in visual storytelling because it would be relevant. Always Include your relevant skills, and any complimentary skills.

  1. Great people doing amazing work sometimes struggle to explain what they are working on.

While it isn’t always easy to break down complex concepts, there is a lot of value in doing so as it ensures you are on the same page with someone regardless of their background. Also, some may have different terms for the same thing because they worked in a different company or country, so simplify when you can and when you need to show your expertise add a definition. Remember the person reading your application will not be able to ask you what you mean by xyz. It is very rare for you to be asked to clarify any information you added to an application. If you aren’t sure of whether the information is clear or not, you can ask a colleague to read through. I would advise you to ask someone that isn’t in your industry as their ease in understanding the information would show whether you have broken down any technical concepts well.  Simplifying a complex concept will also show that you have a good understanding of what you are working on enough to be able to effectively work with people in other industries. Group programs will often have an aim of creating a platform for collaboration and may want you to to work with people with different backgrounds or even carry on the conversation beyond the program. 

If you aren’t sure what information to add, you can have a look at the organisation’s website to understand their mission, vision and values. If they have the opportunity call out on the website, it will also help you know what they are looking to achieve through the opportunity and the kind of participant that would be a good fit. You can then tailor the information you give them to what you know about them including accolades and achievements that show you are a good fit for the program or opportunity they have.

  1. Great people doing amazing work sometimes disqualify themselves

Have you ever thought “I’m not experienced enough”, or “Maybe in a few years when I have done xyz?” Apply anyway. Dealing with imposter syndrome is an ongoing process and the truth is that doing difficult things doesn’t mean the difficult things become easier, you just build capacity for it. If you are looking to step into all that you are envisioning for yourself you need to build capacity for failure, and if you are looking to also start a business also consider your capacity for starting from zero. Failing means that you have tried and it will allow you to learn. The reality is that it’s difficult to improve something that you aren’t sure about.

When working with personal branding clients we go through a process of assessing why they don’t feel qualified for something, and what they need to do to feel they can do it. I encourage you to do the same: ask yourself what you need to do for you to feel like you can apply for an opportunity you have been eyeing and then actually take time to do the work.

I have asked people why they didn’t apply for a programme and in most cases the answers have been surrounding them not being ready, or having enough experience but when compared to the applicants that had actually applied, they were a lot more qualified with a lot more experienced. Have you seen “women encouraged to apply” on a flyer? While this article is about opportunities, you have probably heard that women will tend to only apply for a job when they meet 100% of the qualifications, while men apply when they meet 60% of them. The battle can be a mental one so take time to do the work on yourself for yourself.

Also, apply anyway because there might not be enough applicants from your demographic. For example, I have done call outs for Africans and in some cases found very few Zimbabweans applying when there had to be a certain number accepted. This would mean that most if not all of the applicants would be accepted if they met the criteria. Also note that callouts are expensive and applying  is a way to get onto the organisations database as they may first send an opportunity to their database. You might not get into this opportunity, but you might be invited to apply for something else within the organiation.

In conclusion, when it comes to applying for opportunities, decide on your end goal and start building your capacity for difficult things including starting from zero. Also remember to ensure your online presence supports what you have added to your application. The people reading your application will look you up so update your online profiles and only list the social media accounts that have information relevant to your application. Having information on your profiles that supports the information in your application will help show you are credible. This points to you being intentional about building an online footprint – if you can write about your area of interest, get started. Share about the work you are doing and show your association with any organisations that will help your personal brand.


*Anesu-Tendesai Chikumba is an online brand strategist and content marketer who works with people and organisations looking to bridge the gap between what they want to be known for and who they currently are.She educates on brand and online marketing fundamentals through the podcast Building African Brands. Anesu’s passion for problem solving for African challenges, empowering young people also led her to found Unpublished Africa a social impact organisation helping African creatives build their credibility. Holding a Bachelor of Commerce from University of Cape Town and Advanced Diploma in Digital Marketing, Anesu-Tendesai  is also a Young African Leaders Initiative (Yali) Fellow. 

*These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale consultants (Private) Limited, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance and Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe.

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