Monday, March 12, 2007

New Horizons for an MBA

I have been self employed for 20 years, I have an MBA in finance and management experience. I am looking for a change, but am having a difficult time finding anything that fits. Any suggestions?

by Townsend Belisle, former Professional Headhunter

First off, I’m envious of your experience. I believe that self-employment is one of the only ways to truly find that holy grail of work-life balance… though I know it takes enormous discipline.

I believe that the best way to find “something else that fits” is to “try on” as many things as possible. I would suggest you spend as much time as possible reading, traveling, and talking to people you respect or admire.

Read, read, read (yeah, I should practice what I preach). Here in New York, one steadfast way to find inspiration is to read The New York Times regularly. There are a number of times I’ve found a compelling article, an influential profile, or an engaging company or product in the “pages that fit.” Every week I hear the line, “did you see that article in the Times?”

I’ve also read two books that have helped many re-think their careers. The first is one by Richard Bolles called What Color Is Your Parachute? The premise is that you match your skills and passions to targeted industries and companies. I know nearly a dozen people who have found work this way.

Another popular book out there is Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life? Many Gen Xers found it helpful post-internet bubble. This is a great read that gives permission to a generation to accept more meaning in their work, while giving them direction on how to find that meaning.

Travel can also inspire ideas on a career change. Go spend some time with those long-lost friends on the opposite coast, neighboring city or foreign country. A brief exposure to a different culture can give you ideas about what you like and don’t like – and can further drive decisions about those things you admire in a job.

Then go talk to people. One of the most marvelous things about people is that, when you openly and honestly ask for help, many willingly jump in to assist. Call those mavens and influencers in your life and ask them, “Can you help me? I’m trying to understand how my work experience and skills could apply to other industries and I believe you are someone who could offer sound advice. May we schedule time for coffee?”

Whether you find another means to be self-employed or you’re looking for the safe haven of “working for the man,” know that finding the new career is about knowing (and believing in) your expertise - and when considering something so new, you might try to focus on your skill-sets, and not your experience.

As an example, I’ve spent my career holding titles such as agent, producer, headhunter, recruiter, and business developer. But my expertise has remained the same – I am an expert at mediating between creative people and business people. In those roles, I’ve landed big contracts, built top-brand websites, targeted key executives, sourced for specific talent, and sold turnkey solutions… but my skill sets can be pared down to just a few.

Don’t be weighed down by how your “professional experience” limits your options. Instead of thinking of your career by the numerous titles you’ve maintained, think of it simply as the use of your skills over time and in many situations. And it is those skills that you take from job to job (and improve upon job to job), that become so valuable as an expertise, which can then be applied to many companies and careers. So think about what your actual skills are – and determine how you can apply those skills in other positions or within other industries.

"I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.” ~ George Burns

Townsend Belisle gained listening and anthropology skills from his family, learned how to multi-task while waiting tables, and discovered the art of cold calling while championing friends into creative careers.

Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
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