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Rethink Your Career Transition

   By: Richard Hanes

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 the throes of what George Leonard, author of Mastery, calls the “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 the plateau. Before you chuck your old career, decide whether it no longer works for you or whether you’ve just tired of being on the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the desired result, which is clarified as a result of the process. So take heart, all those who want something different but don’t know exactly what it is – the 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 the 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 the company you keep, you need to meet new people to guide and help you shape your career experiments successfully.

Third, revise your life story so it’s compelling and coherent. Revising your life story involves revising your resume and story you’ll tell during informational and job interviews. You need this revised story for two reasons. 1. To convince yourself during a time of turmoil and confusion that your career change makes sense; and 2. To convince a prospective employer that hiring you is worth the risk.

A good story is like a good movie. Good movies cause you to “suspend your disbelief”. You care about the character, believe in him or her and relate to the struggle he or she is going through. You watch with bated breath as the protagonist struggles against obstacles that cause fundamental changes in character. You believe in the character as he or she reaches the point of no return and resolves his or her struggle, either successfully or unsuccessfully. You care and you believe in them.

How do you suspend your interviewer’s disbelief? By making your story compelling and convincing. Demonstrate to your interviewer that your transformation is complete and sensible. Explain the internal reasons for your career change, for example, I changed to do something I’m really good at or that I really enjoy. Show how you’ve learned from what you’ve tried and how you used that learning to deepen your understanding of yourself. It’s best to avoid external reasons (i.e. I was fired or laid off) to avoid the impression that you simply accept fate rather than actively shape it.

Cite as many reasons for your change as you can, and point out any explanations that have deeply rooted causes. Family or financial circumstances may have prevented you from realizing a goal from long ago. Persevering and overcoming obstacles are attractive qualities to employers.

Show continuity and causality – a natural series of unfolding events that make sense. Connect your past work life to your present situation and project it out into the future. Tell your story so that the obstacles you’ve overcome and what you’ve learned about your character inspire your prospective employer to believe in your motives, character and ability to reach your goals. Tell it so they can see you doing the same things for them!

No matter how you cut it, change is messy, and career change is no exception. Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, in A Simpler Way, share that life uses messes to get to well-ordered solutions. But messes don’t feel very good while you’re in the midst of them!

That’s where professional help comes in. A broad shoulder to lean on when you need it. A productive mind to help you brainstorm experiments and shifting connections. A capable life story editor to help make your story compelling and convincing. If you know you need a change, but don’t feel comfortable going it alone, contact a career coach!

Copyright 2005, Fruition Coaching. All rights reserved.


About the Author

Rick Hanes is a life and career coach, writer, outdoorsman, gardener and tireless advocate for living life with purpose and passion. He founded Fruition Coaching in 2004 to lead the fight against leading lives of quiet desperation. Check his website at http://www.fruitioncoaching.com to contact him about rekindling the fire of your life!


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