How to Reinvent Your Career - Interview with Dorie Clark

Mar 5, 2014
8 Min Read

In a recent survey by ManpowerGroup Inc., they found that 83 percent of employees are searching for a new job this year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people have between three and six careers in their lifetimes now. Reinvention is a part of how we manage our careers and there's no one better to talk about that subject than Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. Clark is an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She's worked with a diverse range of clients, including Morgan Stanley, Google and the National Park Service. In the following brief interview, Clark talks about the process of career reinvention, how to acquire the right skills to aid your transition, finding the right mentor and more.

Dan Schawbel: What is the process someone goes through to reinvent their career?

Dorie Clark: There are three steps to the reinvention process. First, you need to get a clear sense of how you’re currently viewed by others. Most people think they know this already, but we all have blind spots, so it’s important to get honest feedback to ensure you have an accurate sense of where you’re starting. Next, you need to develop a proactive vision of how you’d like to be perceived. What do you want to be known for professionally? Sometimes, there may be a gap between where you are now and where you’re heading. You can start to bridge that gap by taking classes, volunteering, or finding other ways to hone your skills. Finally, you can’t fully reinvent yourself until you starting living out your new brand. How can you ensure others fully recognize who you are and what you’re capable of? From taking on leadership roles in your new job or field to creating interesting online content (blogging, starting a podcast series), you want to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re serious about your reinvention and have something valuable to offer.

Schawbel: How do you find the right skills, and acquire them, so you can make a career transition?

Clark: You can often determine what skills you need through the informational interview process. If you’re hoping to transition into becoming a fundraising professional, your chats with established fundraisers can clue you in to the essentials – the ability to be a great conversationalist and listener, the importance of being organized and keeping good records, public speaking skills, and the like. Once you’ve identified what you need to know, think about the fastest and cheapest way to obtain those skills. For many people, the default is “go back to school and get a graduate degree.” Which is great, and may sometimes be the right answer, but it’s an expensive choice if you only need to master a few things. Instead, think about what you can learn by volunteering (could you chair the annual dinner for a charity?), job shadowing (is there a fundraiser you know who would let you follow her around for a day or two?), reading books (what are the classics of the field?), or taking a few classes (adult education centers or extension school courses are an affordable alternative).

Schawbel: What should be your criteria for selecting the right mentor?

Clark: Generally, I don’t think there is one “right mentor.” Many people look for one perfect, wise, older professional to guide them, and end up disappointed when they don’t find one. Instead, I encourage people to widen their definition and learn from a range of colleagues – senior professionals, peers, or even your junior associates or interns. They may not be “the total package,” but if they can teach you about a particular skill you’d like to master, such as networking, public speaking, or social media, you can learn a lot. I’d also caution them to avoid the telltale signs of “the wrong mentor” – specifically, they don’t have time for you or make you feel like you’re hassling them, and they seem to have an agenda (steering you toward a particular outcome), rather than having your best interests at heart.

Schawbel: Why do you believe it's important to reinvent your career after being at the same job for years? What are the risks?

Clark: In today’s economy, it’s often riskier not to reinvent yourself. Jobs are changing and industries are collapsing, so if you’re perceived as a “one trick pony” who can only do one thing well, that can be perilous. I interviewed Steven Rice, the Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Juniper Networks, for my book, Reinventing You. He told me that the most important skill he looks for in prospective employees is the ability to be flexible and adaptable, because that’s the foundational skill in today’s fast-changing workplace.

Schawbel: Can you tell your personal story of how you were able to make a transition in your own life?

Clark: I started my career as a political journalist – a job I loved. But I got laid off in 2001, just as the industry was collapsing, and realized it would be extremely difficult to get another job as a reporter: I had to reinvent myself. Over the ensuring decade, I was very lucky to serve as a presidential campaign spokesperson, a nonprofit executive director, a documentary filmmaker, and now a marketing strategy consultant, author, and business school professor. What I learned in the process is that we all need to reinvent ourselves these days, in ways large or small, in order to stay ahead of the curve. Reinvention is the must-have skill for the 21st century.

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