Working Identity

by Herminia Ibarra
Harvard Business School Press, 224 pages, $9.71

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The premise of this book is revolutionary: instead of reading ingredients for a new career identity, following directions then creating one, readers are treated to a novel approach. Ibarra’s do-it-yourself attitude toward career transitions champions the idea of doing first, then making realizations and assessments. Anyone trying to reinvent themselves professionally will learn from the stories of people who had the initial courage to go out on a limb. Working Identity is ideal for professionals making a career shift who have hesitations about journeying into the unknown.

“Knowing is the result of doing and experimenting,” insists Ibarra. She prescribes making contacts in a wide range of fields so we can try on different careers and taking the time to browse before committing to a path. These are some of the keys on the road to career change and reinvention:

  • Explore possible selves
  • Craft and execute "identity experiments"
  • Survive the rocky period between career identities
  • Connect with role models and mentors who can ease the transition
  • Decide when to abandon the old path in order to follow the new

Working Identity acknowledges that changing the way we approach career changes is no easy task. Traditional processes of taking self-assessment tests and consulting career counselors make it seem like a career transition is a straight path toward some predetermined identity. Ibarra’s proactive process holds more relevance for today’s shifting workplace where people try on more and more career hats. Although the book advocates action, it also advises people to reflect on the whys of the choices they make and to examine their true motives.

Many people’s existing “working identity” is reinforced by colleagues and their professional relationships. These people tend to view you in the context of your current (or most recent) position and this can be confining when you want to change. Forging new relationships and finding new mentors is a necessary step. Working Identity is full of great information on how to meet these people and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships. When you are making a career shift and everyone is telling you to think outside of the box, this is the book to read. It will make you realize there is no box.

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