Tuesday, May 12, 2009

7 Steps to a Career Change

Posted by Mark Brousseau

It happened. Your worst recession nightmare came true. You strolled into work securely (if unenthusiastically) employed and stumbled out, pink slip in hand, jobless in an overcrowded market. Gripped by the fear of not being able to pay the bills and worried that opportunity won't knock twice in this down economy, you rush into the first job your quickly updated resume leads to. Sure, you might end up being just as unhappy as you were before, but at least the check coming every two weeks will keep you from becoming destitute. However, Robin Fisher Roffer stresses that even in these difficult times you shouldn't confuse activity with progress.

She says that whether you're newly laid off or simply desperate for a career change, if you change your focus from just keeping your head above water to becoming a fearless fish and going after the job you truly want, you'll be setting yourself up for a happier life in the long run.

You're probably thinking, But wait! Isn't this the worst possible time to pursue the new career I've dreamed about?

"Not at all," says Roffer, author of The Fearless Fish Out of Water: How to Succeed When You're the Only One Like You. "Actually, it's the perfect time to search your soul, muster your courage, and become a fearless (career changing) fish out of water. That may mean finding your dream job, entering a new industry, or even venturing out on your own as an entrepreneur."

Despite the bad economy, Roffer stresses that opportunities do exist. That's why she says it's more important than ever to create a personal brand identity and to shine a light on those qualities that make you different and more desirable than the rest. Playing up what makes you special could be the very thing that gets you your next job and keeps you in business.

In her new book, Roffer teaches that—contrary to popular belief—standing out is a good thing. Being different gets you noticed and it's the first step to gaining influence.

"Your unique personality, outlook, appearance, or background—really, any attribute that sets you apart—is not a liability but an asset," says Roffer. "If you're looking for a new job or just want to make the career change you think will make you happier, there's never been a more important time to put your unique self out there."

Read on for Roffer's seven steps to being a fearless fish out of water and how they can help you get the job you've always wanted, even in a down economy:

STEP 1: Go Fishing for the Real You. No one knows what's special about you better than you do. So, don't squander it...focus on it! In today's economy, there's no room for generalists. We are in an era of specialization—where being different is good. As a free agent making a significant career change, you've got to put a flag in the ground and declare who you are and what you're good at. If you haven't done this, I promise that others have done it for you. But, they might have gotten you wrong. And, that's the danger.

"To write your next chapter, peel away all the layers you've built up playing the game for others and hone your skills to become an expert at something that's valuable right now," says Roffer. "Perhaps you've been in marketing at a big company and you want to break out and start your own firm. Think about what makes you special in the marketing arena and go with that. For example, maybe you can market any kind of product or service, but where you really excel is in multicultural marketing. If that's your vein of gold, and where you can drive revenue to your client's bottom line, then that's where you might want to place the focus of your new business."

STEP 2: Use Your Differences as a Lure. If you've gotten the pink slip and some severance pay, the natural tendency in extraordinary economic times like these might be to just hunker down, cut back on expenses, and try to hold on to the money. Newsflash! That's exactly the strategy that could hang you in the long run. Because if you're not standing up, standing out, and standing for something important right now, you will become irrelevant.

"Ask former colleagues, clients, customers, and friends what they think makes you positively different at work," says Roffer. "What qualities do you possess that attract people to you and the work you produce? Use the strengths of what makes you different to find your career destiny. Choose a path that feeds your passion and builds on who you are deep inside. Don't just do the logical thing or the expected thing. Do what resonates with your soul. When you do what you love, you'll get positive recognition and the money will come."

STEP 3: Find a Few Fish Like You. Next you'll need to build relationships and make connections. Finding people who have faith in you is like finding an anchor in rough seas. Now is the time to connect with others in your situation who believe in your dream and can cheerlead you on. Start attending luncheons, trade shows, or seminars in the industry you want to be in to find people who share your passion. Find out how you can help each other get ahead in these difficult times.

"Hire a business coach or find a mentor who can help you strategize your transition," says Roffer. "Reward cheerleaders in your personal and professional circles for their loyalty and support and let go of naysayers and time wasters whose negativity will only hold you back. This is the moment to deepen positive relationships to ensure your security and your future."

STEP 4: Swim in Their Ocean Your Way. One way to differentiate yourself from the pack and stay true to the core you is by the way you dress. Put on what's acceptable in your industry and then kick it up in unexpected ways to become unforgettable. Every great brand has packaging that reflects what's on the inside. Think in those terms the next time you go shopping. Does a dress say "school teacher" when it needs to say "business development"? Does your computer bag say "accountant" when it needs to say "web designer"? Are you wearing a golf shirt when a tie would speak volumes about your business acumen? Bottom line: Look the part you're playing and you'll play it better.

"Once you get inside your new company, adopt the culture without getting lost in it," says Roffer. "As a person in transition, who feels like a fish out of water, it can be deadly to get so entrenched in someone else's culture or demands that you can't find the real you. Instead look for what resonates with you and don't buy into what doesn't feel right. Stay true to your core values. If you don't, at the end of this recession, you may not recognize yourself."

STEP 5: Put Yourself Out on the Line. Fearless fish are perfectly positioned to make a difference in the world. Think of Oprah, Bono, and Bill Gates. It's not the wallflower who's going to help their customers go green, or the conformist who will invent the new business model. Getting behind a cause is good for business and makes you look like a hero. Volunteer, join a board, make a major donation.

"Each year a percentage of my company's revenue goes to The Aquarium of the Pacific to save our oceans and the animals that live there," says Roffer. "We put that fact right on our invoices. It makes our customers feel good about working with us. Figure out a way to give back as you transition to your new career. Or better yet, choose a career that is a cause! You may be paralyzed by fear and feel like every minute you need to push that rock up the hill. But shake it off. Give to others instead and watch what you receive in return."

STEP 6: Evolve by Casting a Wide Net. Conformity is not distinguishing. The way to live deeply is to keep reinventing yourself, changing with the times and with your customers. Holding onto the essential you while updating your style, your website, your advertising, and your thinking is the fastest way to the top. Step 6 of being a fearless fish asks that you use your place outside the circle to always be relevant to your company and industry.

"If you've been pigeonholed, now is the time to change perception by learning a new language, taking classes that will sharpen your skills, becoming an apprentice to someone you aspire to be like, and polishing your web presence so that you shine online," says Roffer. "Identify the next peak you want to climb and take the necessary steps to evolve who you are to get there. It's about staying true to the essence of who you are, and then recasting your image to feel brand new."

STEP 7: Reel in Your Unique Power. It's easy to succeed when things are going right. What determines real character is what you do when faced with adversity. To muster the strength to succeed, look back at other times in your life when you rose to the occasion. You'll realize how brave you really are!

"Uncertainty makes everyone question their personal value and the value of their skills," says Roffer. "However, the fearless among us overcome these doubts by practicing their ABCs—action, belief, and courage."

"It's time to stop wringing your hands and start raising the bar on who you can be and where you can go," says Roffer. "The way you see yourself can either propel you forward or hold you back. When you start going after jobs, remember, the story that you tell about yourself is what others will believe. Use your unique power to make them believe that you are indispensable and that is exactly what you will be!"

What do you think? Post your comments below.

No comments: