Career Changing

Herminia Ibarra proposes a “test and learn” career change model, in which action trumps introspection. It’s an admittedly crooked path: Knowing what you want to do comes from experimenting with various possibilities. In this strategy, the goal is to try on alternative work identities to find the most satisfying fit, and choices are constantly refined as the process evolves. This method has several advantages. The career changer acquires a tangible sense of the kinds of tasks a new field might involve and has a chance to get to know the types of people who would be colleagues. The idea is to ground the fantasy of a certain career in reality before making the high-stakes leap into that new field. “The only thing that can help you figure out your next career is bumping into it,” Ibarra says. “So the whole process can be distilled to this: What maximizes the chances that you’ll encounter it, then recognize it as a real possibility and develop it?”

Ibarra has identified the following three practices that form the basis of this strategy and provide logical underpinnings to what can sometimes seem like a messy and unfocused quest.

  1. Craft experiments: Devise ways to sample a new role without giving up your current job. Take courses, try freelancing, do pro bono work, or moonlight in a field that interests you. Use vacation time or take a sabbatical to experience some aspect of that field.
  2. Shift connections: Expand your network of contacts beyond your usual circles. Go to conferences in the industry that you’re considering, attend your college reunion, or reach out to people who do work that you’re interested in for advice and information.
  3. Make sense: Create a story that you can tell yourself and others about what you’re trying to do and how it connects the old you with the person you wish to become. Think of it as your own personal elevator pitch. Don’t be afraid to revise it regularly, based on your progress and your growing understanding of where you want to go.

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