Are you going nowhere in your career? If you’ve decided it’s time to change your career completely, here’s a new way of changing!
Before you jump ship, think about what’s been happening in your career. Have you been making little or no progress for some time? You may be in throes of what George Leonard, author of Mastery, calls “plateau”. Leonard argues that we master something with a series of one intense upward growth spurt followed by a long period of nearly flat growth – a plateau. In this age of “what have you done for me lately”, you may have just tired of being on plateau. Before you chuck your old career, decide whether it no longer works for you or whether you’ve just tired of being on plateau. If you’ve decided to change careers completely, read on!
So you’ve decided to jump, eh? Well, you’ve got two choices of how to do it. First is traditional “think, plan, do” linear sequence we’ve all been taught by career counselors and well-meaning family members. If you’re just changing jobs within a career field, this strategy should work fine for you. But it sucks for career changers and here’s why! We get much of our identity from what we do; just ask anyone about himself or herself. What does she or he tell you first? I’m a ___________ (fill in blank here – doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.) We get that identity by what we’ve done in our careers. In my experience hiring hundreds of folks for law firms, interviewers are skeptical of “career changers”. Hiring is a costly and time-consuming process, and interviewers don’t want to do it any more than necessary nor take unnecessary risks. You’ve got to convince them that hiring you makes sense, and to tell a convincing story requires that you’ve convinced yourself change makes sense. It’s hard to convince yourself you can do if you haven’t done it.
So how do you present a prospective employer with a risk worth taking? Use second option for career changing – an iterative process. Ok, you say, I’ll bite. What’s an iterative process?
Merriam Webster’s dictionary describes it as a repetitive process that yields results successively closer to desired result, which is clarified as a result of process. So take heart, all those who want something different but don’t know exactly what it is – iterative process comes to your rescue.
So what does an iterative career shifting process look like? Herminia Ibarra describes a three-step strategy in her book, Working Identity, Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. First, create experiments. Stephen Covey once said we can’t talk our way out of a situation we behaved our way into. Since our identities are defined by what we do, we need to pick some possible, alternative career identities and find activities that allow us to try these identities on for size. If they fit well, we can delve more deeply into them. If they fit poorly, we can put them back on rack and try another.
Second, shift connections. Your working identity is also defined by your web of relationships in work and family life. Your current co-workers, bosses, family members, suppliers and customers all have vested interests in having you remain unchanged. Talk with any of them about a new career, and they’ll steer you toward a slightly modified version of what you’re doing now – not a career shift.
So, you’ll need to meet new people in your experimental fields. Go on informational interviews. Write to authors in your new field and engage them in conversation. Investigate trade or professional associations in your new field, or talk with college professors who teach that subject. Use your imagination to find new people for your network. Since who you are is defined by company you keep, you need to meet new people to guide and help you shape your career experiments successfully.