If you’ve been working in your current field for five years or so, perhaps longer, it’s likely that you’ve branded yourself. If you’ve worked for a company, you’ve had lots of help. If you work for yourself, you’ve done a lot of the work on your own. Regardless, people know who you are. More importantly, you know who you are. Your expertise is valuable. But what if that brand you’ve built is just not fulfilling. Something’s amiss and you’d like to explore some other options, or the company’s been sold, restructured, or downsized, leaving you without a place to hang your career hat.
There’s an old saying that contends it’s unwise to swap horses in the middle of a stream. That saying referenced a speech by the American political candidate, incumbent Abraham Lincoln, as he headed into the campaign for his second term as President of the U.S. in 1864. Lincoln was elected, but things didn’t work out all that well for him.
The lesson learned here, then, might be that sometimes it’s better to go ahead with the swap. If you’re considering an exchange on the career front but fear the swap, we’ve got some tips for you to make the transition a bit less risky.
Whether you’re headed in a major new direction, or a simple minor course correction, you’ll need to do some re-branding. What do you want people to think of when they hear your name or see your face?
Apparently, it only takes 30 seconds for a first impression to make a negative mark on someone. It takes about 20 more interactions to alter that impression from bad to good. It is much easier to make the right impression the first time.
There are lots of ways to go about changing your brand. The biggest, easiest, and most effective is to begin with the internet. Build a website. While that may sound daunting, it is now quite easy, and rather inexpensive. There are tools and programs offered by many of the web hosting sites that make it a very simple process.
What should be on your website? Certainly, your name, what you do, and your contact information. In addition, whatever it is you stand for is important to convey. What makes you different from the other people who do what you’re doing? Your site needs to be compelling. Examples of your best work are also quite helpful. Pretty tricky, you say, if you’re doing that horse switch thing and haven’t done much work in a new field, eh? Perhaps not.
There will likely be overlaps between what you are currently known for and what you want to be known for in the future. That overlap expertise is something you need to emphasise. Similarly, there will be tasks that you performed in your old work that are also applicable to new work you are seeking. Those skills and duties should be emphasised.
If you’re still working on a resume, you might want to put that on the back burner while you do a little research. On yourself. That’s right, type in your name and see what Google is saying about you. Like it or not, you’ll have to deal with your electronic footprint in just about any interview.
Whether meeting with a new corporate group to apply for work, or pitching a new client for your own business, just about everyone checks out your qualifications on the internet. Resumes may still be required by some, but most of that old formality get less than a 30-second glance as HR or hiring managers review the piles of applications. You’ll have to work hard to stand out.
One way to ensure you’ll at least get a second look is to use appropriate keywords in your resume that are also used by the interviewer. Use words that match the descriptors in a job posting, a request for proposal, or an advertisement. Researching sites like LinkedIn to find people working in the field you’d like to enter, and noting the keywords used by those already in the field, can help if you are uncertain.
Being active on social media is another way to build a brand quickly. What used to take years can now happen overnight if something goes viral. Remember, that works with both good, as well as bad, information, so try to monitor your brand online to keep it from getting tarnished for no good reason.
While it usually takes a few months to a year to gain a following and establish a presence, that’s still faster than it ever has been. Make sure to include a good head shot on your social media pages to help identify you when you’re out and about. Also write a good bio on yourself. If you can, write a mission statement that tells folks why your business exists. If you’re not a writer, find help from a friend, relative, or willing retiree who is accomplished at writing.
While many feel business cards are passé, you really do need a way to be remembered. If that little card seems too old fashioned, have your information put on a flash drive that you can hand out to potential clients or employers. Having your name and/or logo professionally printed on it ensures a lasting impression on something that is useful.
Backing up your brand with experience is important. Pull examples out from your previous career that have applications to the new you, emphasising duties and accomplishments that illustrate your work ethic and commitment to the field. If you haven’t got experience, volunteer to do some pro bono work, or shop around for friends that might need your products or services, then ask for recommendations or endorsements and post them on your website.
If you know you need a change, but aren’t sure just which way to go, there are some wonderful exercises you can execute to give you ideas for appropriate career ideas. Books like “What Colour is Your Parachute,” and tests that measure aptitude for specific careers have proven helpful for many generations of career seekers.
Putting things down on paper can help clarify thoughts that have previously only existed in your head, giving them substance and organising your plans. What are you good at? What do you love to do? What is the intersect between the two? What are your hobbies? Are they things that employers would find valuable? Leave no stone unturned.
Western culture tends to retrain people to a specific task, which often leads again down a path of obsolescence. Keep your options broad, and stop identifying yourself by your job title. Instead, ID yourself by what you’re good at and what you know tons about. Perhaps even build an infographic or chart that organizes your skills, hobbies, and traits in a single glance. That self inventory, rather than a classification of a job title, will open doors and allow people to see you as a talented human, as opposed to a title inside of a prescribed, skill-set box.