Seven lessons about Career Change with Professor Herminia Ibarra

when I started studying people trying to make career change the thing that really struck me the most about why they were having such a hard time doing it why they kept getting stuck was not because of the financial risk or the uncertainty or the fear it was because even though they could tell you exactly what they didn't want to do anymore exactly what they didn't like about what they were doing they couldn't tell you what they wanted to do instead I didn't have a very specific idea I knew I didn't really enjoy banking and not because of all the hours or all the hard work it was more I looked at the people who were there a few years ahead of me and I was thinking I do not want to have their lifestyle I don't want to turn into them at that point in time I just had this feeling and doomed to let a problem solving I'm you know the register these random thoughts in my head which I don't want to go out and do this bit the trick in getting this right is understanding that the way we think about what we're good at is also very limiting because if we think about what we're good at we tend to think about it in terms that are very narrow functionally specific very much tied to the job that we've been doing and what important exercise for people to do as they start thinking about what next is to think about not these narrow skills but portable competencies that can be applicable in a range of different contexts and really learning to conceptualize what it is that you do and you do well the culprit things that I was being proposed would just kind of retreads on what had already done because it's plastic heavens a thing you look for someone who looks rather similar to their experience looks like the job you're trying to fill but that's not what I want to do you have to first discover what it is that you want to do you have to meet people you have to do a more random kind of search you have to engage in a discovery process you have to experiment it takes longer but it's a completely different search process and people who try to go about it analytically methodically just like we're trained to do just have a much harder time of it I didn't see had my first period pursuit period that I really had so had a mindset of like I had to do something you know serious I ever have to really focus on something that's had a build a career and so I was thinking everything from kind of consulting to big company jobs but then I started meeting some of my fellow students who had who in those worlds and I was like that's just not me I don't think I should be doing that that's that this didn't fit my personality you meet some people and you say oh you know I'd be good at that or I'd be interested in that let me pursue that a little bit further how do people start somewhere but sometimes that doesn't pan out or there's no job available or they can't make money doing it and so they have to start a search that is for some other approximation I said yes to lots of things to start with and to three didn't work out and that was fine and I actually gained lots of experience right from the start of things that didn't work and that was great actually they're flirting with lots of different ideas except they have been told that you're not supposed to do that thing you're supposed to know exactly what you want and go for it and so it's almost as if they can't even express the reality which is the whole range of things that they're interested in exploring almost like a portfolio almost like a venture capitalist some of them are going to develop and some are not and they really do need permission to go about it that way because it's ultimately more effective so I was avoiding being as random as I was and then at one point I just embraced it I said look this is the way it's gonna work because it actually had been working okay for me even though I was kind of scattered in my job choices ideally you explore things while you still have the safety of a job now sometimes that works out and I really did see many more people than you would imagine doing moonlighting and consulting and starting up a business or be on a board of something that then becomes a bigger pursuit that it really does happen a lot but some jobs don't permit that at all and in those cases I've seen people organize an extended vacation organize a sabbatical I've seen them save up so that they can actually quit and have a window of time my advice would always be figure out how to do it a little bit in the side while you're doing whatever it is it's paying the bills I absolutely believe in trying to dabble in it as much as you can so that you ease into it but it's not how I did it so I don't leave it it has to be that way and so I went to McKinsey and I said I want to go teach at INSEAD and I had officially been working part-time because I kids and I of course worked more so a few months left and off-time had already worked bethe said I want to invest those moments to really create the material for this course and McKenzie was very supportive he said well that's a great idea because it's also for them to have it all kind of content but I really try to encourage people you know go work with someone who's doing something like you do on the weekends especially if you're interested in the wine business that's my busy time is the weekend so I'd love an extra hand it's that I worked at another winery before I opened up and it really taught me a lot about the rhythms of the day or kind of the rhythms of the season and it's just it's just one thing when you do the exercise on paper it's just another thing when you go to try and execute during my private equity time reading through a lot of business plans and how people were running their business really got me thinking about doing my own business so I decided when the opportunity came up I joined a couple of friends as partners to open up a chain of fast casual restaurants one of the things people get very hung up about is will I be as good in a different role as I am right now and it's great to be excellent but I can do this job in my sleep and I'm getting bored and I will definitely be bored down the line but at the same time I don't want to give up that level of edge but if you are well played and I was exceedingly well paid at the bank I was a blue-eyed boy of the chief executive I could go when I wanted to where I wanted to I didn't have to account for anything I had one great position after another and I did just about anything you know that one can do in a commercial bank so why did you throw that away especially when the new CEO offers you an opportunity that never comes the way of anybody it could my very quick job and I was based in Shanghai get taking the train or flying to Wuhan for two or three weeks at a time setting up the restaurants you know rolling my sleeves up actually taking orders from people delivering noodles helping to you know clear off the dishes and it's like this was so different from what I was doing like you know three years ago like talking to CEOs and companies you know we'll have many million do you need it's just very huge there's a huge transition one of the things that most keeps people stuck is their friends and family the network around them and it's not that they don't mean well for the person it's just that they can't most of the time they can't imagine you're doing something else they just don't see you that way they see you historically and then the other thing that gets tricky is that if they're close they're invested in you being where you are that's what you've negotiated if you're the breadwinner or a breadwinner they're invested in that not being put at risk if they're a mentor or appear at work they're invested in you staying where you are oftentimes for people even unconscious level it sets off a tricky dynamic because they've also wondered should I stay or should I go and maybe they've made the choice to stay and they feel quite ambivalent about you spreading your wings we looked at our numbers we looked at a spending pattern and I still have the swat thing that we did with my wife at home you know strengths weaknesses opportunities and threats and we still have that we did that in September 1987 and it didn't the evening after dinner the kids were down and we came to the conclusion that we could survive no cleaners I would have to clean the windows and I would have to push the loam around that we could survive two years ago more I always tell people I think that the best is if you're when you're a couple if one is entrepreneurial and one has the good job and we messed up because we are both on to have our own businesses and so at our house we're always arguing about it's one thing you know I assume most normal couples argue about you know do we have the money to go on a vacation or you know did you spend too much on clothes we argue about you know did you spend too much money on wine making equipment people always want to know if it's gonna work and if it's gonna be successful and what's the probability and they always ask me you know what percentage of the people did you study end up thinking that they did the right thing and you know it's very hard to quantify those things it's hard to quantify it because people leave because they can't stand it anymore because the options that they thought they had are actually closing you you make calculated risks and and what people always forget is that there's a big risk to just staying where you are and and the biggest risk of all is staying where you are without exploring your market value without understanding you know where you might be follow your star follow your star six months into having established my own business I knew would work I never ever imagined that it would take off and grow the way that it did but I knew that I would survive and therefore six months into it I was kicking myself not to have done it two years earlier you

10 thoughts on “Seven lessons about Career Change with Professor Herminia Ibarra”

  1. Considering a change of career…? Real Estate may be the opportunity that you are looking for. Visit for more information

  2. great advice. I'm sure the book is worth reading.

    "- admit you don't have the answers
    – rethink your skills
    – get random
    – don't jump too soon
    – but don't get stuck
    – be wary of advice
    – remember staying is risky too"

  3. This video made me feel like it's ok to not be happy with where I am, and where I've been. We live lives where we are taught to be grateful for what we have because others have it worst. Such manipulation, thanks for this post… truly

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