Reinventing yourself – Is it time for a career makeover?

Careers are like sharks, especially at the upper levels. They need forward momentum to stay alive, especially in today's constantly shifting workplace

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Reinvention means different things to different people.

Take Bill, for example. In his sixties, Bill started his first job before the invention of the personal computer, cell phones or even fax machines. All work was done with pencils, ledger pads, typewriters, land lines and messenger services. OK, he never touched an Abacus, but it all seemed very “stone age” to someone used to the rapid technology advances we experience in the workplace and our personal lives almost every day.

And yet, it was Bill, not one of his younger colleagues, who finally introduced his company to the latest social media phenomena, including Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia articles and a company blog. Turns out this foresight was a real boon to his career and, despite a challenging economy and other of his age having difficulties maintaining upward momentum, he flourished. When asked if he could sum up his ability to survive and thrive through such amazing times, he smiled and said, “Reinvention.”

To some, reinvention denotes that a major “management makeover” is necessary; to others a more subtle change is in order. Regardless, if you want to keep pace with an ever-changing business environment, it may be time to reinvent yourself. Here are some strategies:

Fill Skill Gaps: Sometimes, reinvention is simply a matter of picking up a new skill which makes you more efficient. Bill’s first attempt occurred years ago while he was still an entry level Accounts Receivables clerk. He was told his “hunt and peck” method of adding up checks on a calculator was too slow. By focusing on the 5 key at the centre of the calculator to learn his way around the keypad by touch, Bill gradually grew faster each day until he was swiftly totalling mounds of checks with perfect accuracy. It may have seemed like a small matter, but time saved can open you up to more responsibilities. Soon, Bill was supervising other clerks. Determination, practice and repetition were the keys to increased productivity, and that got him noticed.

Be Opportunistic: Promoted to Marketing, Bill was asked if he could write a speech for the Hundred Club, an annual gathering for the company’s top 100 sales people. And because his boss shared his efforts with other executives, they soon also began to ask for his help. Bill wrote everyone’s speeches that year and soon branched into marketing materials, internal documents and press releases. He had reinvented himself as a writer.

By being open to new experiences, you may discover a talent you were unaware of. Companies offer a variety of such opportunities, formally or informally. You must seize any such opportunities to spread your wings and reinvent yourself in others’ eyes. If you are young, make sure you work on as diverse a portfolio as possible without spreading yourself too thin. If you are older, use temporary assignments and secondments to expand your skills and become more versatile.

Improvise: Suddenly, meeting planning was also added to Bill’s responsibilities. He quickly learned to keep detailed checklists and timelines so that no deadline or element was overlooked as he negotiated with airlines, hotels and customs officials. He worked closely with a service bureau, which produced stacks and stacks of 35mm slide carousels for presentations since there were no laptops, PowerPoint or thumb drives at the time.

Necessity is often the mother of reinvention. When thrown into situations where you have little or no experience, look for talents you already have which may be useful in organizing the project. Find out who did the job before. If they are not available, find their files and reverse engineer the results. Ask people what they liked or didn’t like about similar experiences in the past. Seek a mentor from among the vendors and professionals involved. They want to look good too, and will be glad to share their experiences. Don’t be afraid of the “trial and error” method. You often learn as much from your mistakes as you do from what goes right.

See the Need: Bill had several other examples from his career to tell, but I was still curious about his breakthrough in social networking. Why didn’t someone else who perhaps grew up with the technology involved introduce this vital marketing tool? “I think I just saw the need before anyone else and, with my communications background, I though I’d give it a try,” he said. “It seemed to be a great way to introduce our branding to a whole new audience at little or no cost.” So, slowly at first, he started creating a detailed checklist, opening the accounts and researching the software, In other words, he started reinventing himself again.

The truth is, no one today should be satisfied with the status quo. Careers are like sharks, especially at the upper levels. They need forward momentum to stay alive. The workplace is shifting constantly and yesterday’s skills may not meet the demands of tomorrow. The best plan is to develop a “situational awareness” of the company around you and be in a constant state of “reinvention” so you are not caught unaware and unprepared as the world changes around you.


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