An Unconventional Strategy for Career Reinvention

The beginning of the year often has people thinking about not just changing jobs, but making a more radical change to a new career. The challenge is how to successfully make that change. Jump too quickly or to the wrong thing and you may be unsatisfied. Or the number of choices or fear of change may keep you locked into your unsatisfying career. What’s needed is an intermediate step – kind of Minimum Viable Career Reinvention – to test the waters in a new professional domain.

This is what Herminia Ibarra offers in her excellent book, ‘Working Identity.

Ibarra interviewed multiple people that successfully transitioned careers and found a common pattern. People didn’t step back and analyze where they were in their career, nor did they make a deliberate plan for their transition. Instead, they took the unconventional step of experimenting with multiple possible career identities and using the input to update priorities and assumptions. Sometimes, testing identities results in meaningful results for either changing careers or better alignment between the individual and the career. (The following is a reproduction of a graphic you can find here.)

Figure 1 – Identities in Transition

An example might be a corporate attorney exploring entrepreneurship, nonprofits and, possibly, teaching. These experiments don’t have to happen quickly. In fact, it often takes 3-5 years to complete your career reinvention once you’ve made the decision to change. There may also be intermediate steps. In my own case, I became an industry analyst to get some distance from my background writing code and running engineering teams.

If you’re planning a major career transition:

  • Don’t make a quick leap unless you have no other choice. You’re likely to be unsatisfied and frustrated.
  • Experiment with new roles and careers by exploring opportunities with the weak connections in your social circle. This will give you more options and may uncover opportunities you may not have considered previously.
  • Use those experiments, which may include some pro bono work, to inform your next round of experiments until you find something you’re passionate about.

The rest of Ibarra’s book offers multiple strategies, backed up with real-world examples, on how to execute these types of career reinventions.

If you’re thinking about changing careers or have successfully done it, drop me a comment. I’d love to know how it worked for you.

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