Tell me if this resonates with you: You realize where you are in your company is no longer a career path you would like to be on. You enjoy your work and team, and would like to see your career progress further, but on a new road. You see opportunities within your company that would be perfect, and that are closely aligned to your goals.
However, there’s one problem.
You need certain skills to get hired for the new roles, and the only way to attain these skills is by holding those exact jobs! And no one’s willing to take a chance on you.
See the irony?
I found myself in exactly this situation in 2011, and here’s what I did about it.
My Career Journey
I was working in a “conventional” Director of Marketing role at Dell, based in Asia. I enjoyed the job, the company, and my colleagues — but relatively quickly, began to see that some of the core skills I learnt as a marketer were becoming less valuable, and would soon be considered “old-school.” Smart phones, mobile apps, and social media were dramatically changing how people communicate with each other, and the future of work. Marketing and marketers needed to rapidly evolve.
While at the office, building yet another strategic marketing plan, there came a moment of realisation where I knew I needed to ‘disrupt’ something — and in this case, it was my professional skills and personal brand. If not, the future of my career was almost certain: Obsolescence.
Around this time, I read and was deeply impacted by a Harvard Business Review article on ‘Reinventing Your Personal Brand,’ by Dorie Clark. Things were starting to make sense, and I was on to something. I got into action and sketched three options to explore:
- Start my own company
- Go back to school; retrain as a digital advertising, social media, and mobile apps expert
- Get a new role as a digital executive
That list was my ‘original three’. Over time, I got rid of Option 1 — starting my own company — because I had neither the bandwidth, nor the clarity around a specific customer problem I was passionate about solving. Option 2, going back to school, didn’t seem viable — there were very few world-class digital, social, and mobile programs readily available at the time.
That left me with with the third option – working towards a new career opportunity, either where within my company or externally. I figured, since I was a top performer and had consistently been recognized as one for number of years, this would be the path of least resistance.
I interviewed for new roles at Dell with the online, e-commerce and social media marketing teams.
I was turned down repeatedly.
I interviewed with Google and Salesforce, explored roles at LinkedIn and Twitter — which I consider to be “new economy” companies. I was turned down from all those opportunities as well. This was a gut wrenching, de-motivating place to be. I found myself in an utterly impossible situation.
This was the second turning point. Here’s where I stood then, and these were the facts:
- I had a great career in the technology industry, was a top performer, with a great company; had fifteen years of experience in product management, consulting services and marketing globally, having lived and worked across three continents
- I knew and understood marketing and customer experience was changing — and fast
- I wanted to embrace the world of digital, social, and mobile technology; and make my skills relevant for the change that’s upon us
- I knew I wanted to be positioned differently as a result
- As I often told my friends in this period, my vision was to evolve to a socially-aware and savvy leader, to be a force for good and make tremendous, positive impact, globally
The initial ways I had tried to do this failed. And it was hard to see a way forward.
What could I do next?
The Steps To Reinvention
The first step was clear: learn. I tried to learn as much as I could, even without a formal, structured program. I read thought leaders like Seth Godin, Brian Solis and Gary Vaynerchuk. I read blogs, immersed myself in self study via YouTube and TED Talks. I paid attention to what was going on around me, including the business environment. I interacted with social media influencers via LinkedIn and Twitter, as new ways to engage emerged. I dug deep, and focussed on developing a new set of skills.
I reflected on what social media and digital would bring to the future of work. How would enterprise leaders use these technologies and networks to create a distinct competitive advantage? How would decision-makers use social and digital to shape the fabric of a company?
The second step was a little bit counterintuitive: I became what I wanted to be before I was endorsed by others to be it. I co-founded a company, changed business cards, and referred to myself as a social media / mobile app strategist, as opposed to a B2B marketer. I told people that’s what I was, and that was what I did. I rebuilt my brand, agreed to teach courses in all things “digital”, spoke at conferences, and shared my experience.
People believed in it, over time. It opened more doors than some of the formal approaches I had tried. In fact, I was invited to join the Chief Marketing Officer Council Advisory Board in Asia, as a dynamic, “new economy” marketer and entrepreneur.
This process took several years. It was incredibly difficult and messy; the future and outcome unknown. I experienced a great deal of self-doubt and disappointment. My entrepreneurial ventures failed, and the opportunity cost has been significant. Many times I wanted to quit or just take a role I already knew well — but I understood that for the sake of my career and relevance, I couldn’t do that.
When the next breakthrough opportunity opened up — the fact that I went out on a limb, disrupted myself, tried new things, developed new skills, coupled with my diverse global experience is exactly what appealed to the hiring team!
Today, I have the incredible privilege of leading Social Customer Service at HP Inc, based in Silicon Valley. I’ve been in the role since late 2014, and it’s been a remarkable and rewarding ride; the opportunity to make a difference is tremendous, to be at the heart of the reinvention of customer support – where communications, technology and communities converge!
In upcoming posts I will discuss digital transformation in the social era, explore rapidly changing expectations of customer experience, address the underlying culture change that’s required within an organization, and speak to the new skills we personally need to develop.
Before I did any of that though, I thought I would share my backstory for greater context. It has taken me two years to truly get the magnitude of this shift forward and to reflect on my big leap.
The business world is being reinvented almost weekly right now. We need as many people as possible to understand the impact of digital technologies on business, engage in the dialogue, and most importantly act on both the personal and professional transformation required. I invite you to join me in conversation.