A few years ago, feeling warmed by the home-baked gingerbread house ambiance of our local elementary school, I told the principal that I wished I too could work there. Pause. A couple of beats. “If only I liked kids.”
It’s not the last alternative career considered and destroyed in a moment. I’m fascinated by medical science and would jump at the chance to solve medical mysteries as a doctor. Except for those body parts and fluids. Also, I’m not the nurturing type (just ask my kids!).
Currently, novelist is at the top of my alt career list. Second is managing my own small business. Coffee shop? Running store? Hmmm.
Everyone has an alternative career list, yet our collective fortune up until now hasn’t really forced us to seriously consider it. But there are now laid-off investment bankers becoming math teachers, and reporters becoming nurses – people are reinventing themselves.
And I find I’m having conversations a lot more frequently about what people can do in this environment. Not just to keep their current job, but steps they can take to stand out, be different, create their own brand. And this reminds me of a story I read in Fast Company 12 years ago (don’t ask me why – with my notoriously bad memory – but a few things do just stick with me, including useless movie trivia).
The Brand Called You is still relevant today – maybe more so. The current work environment is more competitive and more cutthroat than ever. Think management knows what distinctive qualities make you invaluable? Can you articulate the link between what you do and the bottom line? If you can, you’ve got to say so loudly and frequently. Like that frankly frightening eTrade baby. You need a brand.
Your career isn’t unlike trying to cross a wide, rushing stream. You’ve got to choose the right stepping stones, withstand the force of the water, and keep an eye out for slippery moss.
Here are three ways to develop Brand You and survive the downturn.
1) Cross train. It doesn’t matter if you’re just out of college or have 30 years on the job. Look for ways to improve your current game with continuous learning. But also shake things up. Every now and then, try another sport. If you’ve always been in product development, take a chance to learn another part of the business. Move to sales.
2) Get a crystal ball. You should always have a six-month line of sight into your organization’s future. And yes, it is possible to develop highly plausible scenarios based on information available today. Review sales, OI and economic trend data. Know your organization’s goals and strategy for achieving them. Find the insiders and ask questions. Then, put yourself in management’s shoes and be honest: will they need your group six months from now if revenues continue to decline? Which areas are they investing in? Do you have skills that would be valuable to these areas?
5) Then…Reinvent yourself. My favorite piece of advice. You – Brand You – stands for a distinctive combination of core qualities, skills and personality. Knowing your essential value prop and your strengths will also help you recognize when they can be rescrambled into something new.
I’ve always joked that I’m only good at one thing: writing. But I’ve cross-trained over the years, picking up business development, research, crisis management, public relations, and marketing skills along the way. And, I’ve been pretty adept at sizing up the stepping stones and recognizing that the seemingly logical path might leave me stranded in the middle of the stream – or worse, knock me downstream.
Reinvention doesn’t mean swapping one set of responsibilities for an entirely new set. It means recognizing that you have multiple strengths that can open up a range of vastly different career choices. When I came out of college, I thought writing was the only way I would ever make a living. But, today, I know that I can easily package up my math, critical thinking, and leadership skills and trade my PR job for a marketing one. Or as owner of my new coffee shop.