How to Stay Stuck in the Wrong Career - Keep Listening to the Usual Advice

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. This is the message in Herminia Ibarra’s recent article in the Harvard Business Review. According to Ibarra, it’s not enough to work with career counsellors; and all those personality tests aren’t going to get you far either. Remember the old saying, “analysis into paralysis”? Eventually, says Ibarra, you have to act.

by Herminia Ibarra
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

It’s a process we’ve all been advised to follow when looking to change careers: First, determine what you really want to do. Next, use that knowledge to identify jobs or fields in which your passions can be coupled with your skills and experience. Seek advice from the people who know you best and from professionals in tune with the market. Then simply implement the resulting action steps. So what could be wrong with a thoughtful plan like this? Plenty, says Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organizational Behavior.

In an in-depth study of 39 career changers over a three-year period, Ibarra discovered that the “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. She suggests a “test and learn” approach, which allows for small steps; action instead of reflection. Ibarra illustrates this method through success stories of real career changers.

Harvard Business Review, December 2002

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