Subtitled Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, this important work first came out in 2003 and has been growing in acclaim both among career-changers (as well as career counseling professionals) ever since. Having now read a copy, myself, I can add my own positive review to the bandwagon — and heartily recommend this book to anybody who feels unsatisfied by their current professional direction and that the time has come to reinvent themselves in a serious way.
At its core, what makes the book so noteworthy is that it pushes back — hard — against the common notion that the keys to making a successful career change are careful planning, analysis, and self-reflection. Ms. Ibarra argues that these introspective steps almost never generate enough inertia to break somebody out of their established professional routine. Instead, she believes that the most effective route to realizing career change is to take direct action (often in the form of crafting small “career experiments”) that will deliberately expose one to a set of new individuals, environments, and experiences. One relevant quote that she cites right up front from another author (Richard Pascale) summarizes this thinking quite elegantly: “adults are much more likely to act themselves into a new way of thinking than to think themselves into a new way of acting.”
Throughout the book, Ms. Ibarra explores the implications of this philosophy in depth, sharing the tales of 39 people along the way who have successfully pulled off a major career transition. This combination of elements provides a stream of ample gems for any reader genuinely interested in the career-change subject. In one chapter, for example, she discusses the intriguing notion that would-be career-changers should attempt to identify new paths to follow by concentrating on the “communities” of people that they get along with most comfortably and enjoyably. In other words, if somebody finds themselves always looking forward to spending time in a school setting, with teachers and educators, this instinctive sense of belonging and attraction might be one to follow — and suggest a career related to the educational field. Alternatively, somebody who finds themselves constantly hanging out at Fry’s (the big technology superstore) and “talking tech” with their friends at Microsoft might heed this clue, instead, and start investigating careers within the technology world. This community-based exploration framework isn’t one that’s talked about much, but it makes a lot of sense, given that an enormous chunk of job satisfaction is derived not from one’s work tasks themselves, but from the surroundings in which one performs their work.
Additional elements of the book include a breakdown of the different types of experiments one might set up for themselves, to try out different working identities, as well as a nod to the “strength of weak ties” principle that suggests people often receive the most help and inspiration in their job hunt from brand-new acquaintances, as opposed to close friends and family members. There’s even a great section right at the very end that discusses some specific differences that various demographic groups (e.g. men vs. women, individual consultants vs. managers, etc.) encounter when it comes to changing careers — which I was thrilled to see, since so many books preach a “one-size-fits-all” approach to this issue that completely ignores the fact that not every person approaches this challenge from a similar starting point.
So all in all, while no single book can be expected to offer a soup-to-nuts, utterly foolproof formula for career change, this book adds an extremely important and interesting dimension to the discussion — and is well worth a read for anybody who is in “transition” themselves!