Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Standing out from the Talent Pool: Changing your career direction bygetting noticed

I was talking to a client about financial education and career management recently, and one of the first thing on her mind is how she can better market herself. She works in a competitive field, one that she's fared very well in but she wants to learn how to stand out from the talented pool.

The client is a woman in her 30s and has been following the same career path for over a decade. She wants to remain in her current field but wants to try something different. Her goal now is to market herself.

As women, we tend to stay with the tried and true. We're usually deliberate, taking baby steps to reach our goals. I know that's not the general rule, and my intention is not to place all women in a particular mold. Still, even for those of us who do take the unconventional route and show more initiative, we find obstacles that prevent us from reaching our career goals a lot faster than we want.

Other than throw ourselves in front of the media camera, commit a serious crime, or just be downright opinionated, how does one stand out from the crowd?

  • Challenge authority. With tact, of course. A young millennial caught my attention at a recent presentation held in front of the departmental VP and director. His task was to discuss one of his accounts and describe how it works and its purpose. After he finished, the director stepped up and suggested an alternative way to best manage the account. This young man was not having it. He defended his work and his account quite strongly. But he didn't argue out of sake of arguing. He had apparently done his job, tried alternative processes, and they didn't work. And he wasn't shy stating so by making a strong argument. Impressive, indeed. I'm sure the director, who is accustomed to having his underlings smile and comply to his requests will remember this guy for some time.
  • Try something, anything new. Find a different way to accomplish your work, get out of your comfort zone, and do what you're afraid to do. Hate networking? Reach out to colleagues from different departments. Public speaking makes you sick to your stomach? Offer to teach at a local non-profit, or hold a learning session during lunch at work.
  • Enhance your physical appearance. That old adage about first impressions. Yes, it still applies. Just re-read the first point and you'll understand why. Wear an interesting scarf, part your hair differently. If you usually dress down, walk in one day with a nice suit. But don't try too hard or eventually you'll be ignored.
  • Look for nontraditional ways to use your skills and experiences. Being in the accounting field myself, I did not want to stick to just balancing corporate accounts and so I discovered financial empowerment for women. Teaching at the local YWCA has not only increased my confidence, but it's made me enjoy my work more as a professional accountant. For the first time, I really feel productive.
  • Look for opportunities to network. That insignificant event the local nonprofit is holding on the weekend you want to sleep in. Go to it. You'll never know what it may lead to. And if the thought of networking in public events makes you want to vomit, start small. Join an interesting book club, visit the sites of professional journals and magazines and post a comment. Join the conversation. The Internet has provided the reserved ample opportunity to engage. Get out there and get known, not to start a reality show but to discover new opportunities.
  • Finish this sentence: "When I die, I wish it could be said of me that...." Abraham Lincoln purportedly wanted to be known for plucking thistles and planting flowers wherever they could grow. Know your strengths and weaknesses. What do you find yourself daydreaming about when that darned corporate meeting gets dull? Discover what makes your heart soar and follow that path. Chances are, you're pretty good at it and it can lead to that anticipated career change.
Use what your mama gave you and tear down those stereotypes: teach, create, play, and challenge your superiors and yourselves. You'll really stand up among the crowd of great talent. Only be sure to update your resume and reflect your new skills.

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