Working Identity - Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing your Career

Looking to stay stuck in the wrong career? INSEAD Professor Herminia Ibarra has a little hint – keep listening to the usual advice about changing careers. Because the “plan and implement” approach, characterised by personality tests and searching for the ‘perfect’ career, usually leaves us exactly where we started. Ibarra offers a different approach in her new book, Working Identity.

by Herminia Ibarra
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Looking to start afresh with a new career that finally meets your personal, intellectual, and financial needs? Just make sure you don’t listen to the usual advice about changing careers. According to Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organizational Behavior, it’s not enough to do mountains of research on a potential career or work with career counsellors; and all those standardized personality tests aren’t going to get you very far either. Eventually, says Ibarra, you have to act; only through doing and experimenting can we begin to know what is right for us.

Through in-depth study of 39 professionals and managers in transition over a three-year period, Ibarra discovered that the traditional "plan and implement" model simply doesn’t work, mainly because it cautions us against making a move before we know exactly where we are going.

She suggests that waiting for a bolt of lighting to come down and illuminate the one, perfect job is misguided. We have many “possible selves”, says Ibarra, which means we could have many possible career matches. As such, she suggests a “test and learn” approach, which allows for small steps; action instead of reflection.

In Part I, Ibarra introduces the idea of “possible selves”, a concept that reflects the fact that most people have multiple talents, skills, interests and experiences, which could lead to a number of different careers.

Part II offers concrete solutions for taking the small steps that are necessary to develop momentum. Instead of analysing our situation to death, she explains, we need to begin; somewhere, anywhere!

Part III reviews nine strategies you may not have thought of before, and offers practical advice on how to implement them.

In her conclusion, Ibarra reminds us that change is painful, but is a worthwhile endeavor "because it can get us back to forgotten selves, help us reorder priorities, and explore long-standing or newfound interests."

Also available in: Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Russian...

Harvard Business School Press, 2003

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