Let’s start with some honest perspective: your first job may not be your dream job. However, keep in mind that your first job out of school or first position when starting a new career does not have to limit what type of professional you are five or 10 years from now. In fact, neither do the second or third jobs you may have. Obtaining some experience is a start, and what you do with it while obtaining it – and after you have it – are key factors in positioning yourself for the type of future career you desire.
Your professional brand develops with and through your experiences and reflection. Because you are largely in control of your own voice, the good news is that you get to develop and put forth the message. Regardless of where you start as a professional, consider each step in your career as a component of your personal brand. You get to choose what you do with the experiences you have by how you characterize and describe them to others. You can create messaging about your experiences on your resume, online professional profiles, and in your professional and personal interactions in the tone that best reflects the path you seek to pursue.
Telling your own professional story involves focusing your career path by changing the way you think and speak about it to others. To do this, consider these steps:
(1) Get clear about what career or direction you want. Even if striving toward clarity means defining two or three different career directions or positions that interest you, the important task here is to identify them. Written words are best because they help you visualize and be more precise and intentional in your descriptions. Practice describing these positions or researching job descriptions that might interest you. For example, type into a job search site various combinations of keywords that interest you, and see what types of fascinating jobs pop up. You might be surprised what creative positions are out there that just might be what you're looking for.
(2) Focus on transferable skills from your previous and current work. Consider your first research projects, client interactions, leadership opportunities, meetings, phone calls, etc. to add substance to your professional profile. Don’t forget internships and volunteer experiences! Come up with real examples of substantive work you have completed in which you acquired skills that you could use for another employer in a different context. Recalling precise examples helps you better prepare for a conversation during a networking happy hour or job interview about how you are now equipped to take on similar yet new challenges given the skill development you've been doing.
(3) Draft and share the messages you want to be heard. Considering your interests (from point (1) above) and transferable skills (from point (2)), come up with some key talking points that you wouldn't mind sharing with a friend, family member, or colleague about the new story you wish to tell about yourself. What are your new interests (point 1), and what skills are you building upon from your previous or current work to aim toward where you want to go (point 2)? Then, practice delivering that message about the type of professional you are and the one you want to become – even if the experience you have is not in the area in which you would like to grow. An honest yet creative approach will help you use each experience – even the not so glamorous ones – for your professional development.
Example: Let's say you have an interest in the health field, but your work experience is in marketing. Once you start writing and sharing your story (interest plus skills) with others whom you trust, people may start to think of you for an opportunity like serving on the board of a non-profit organization that needs your expertise to develop a branding campaign for a particular service they offer. From there, you can develop real, specific experience related to your desired direction.
As a professional, and especially as a young or new one, remember that you are always working for yourself by defining your accumulated experiences related to the ones you desire in a positive, confident way. Your everyday professional development is largely in your thoughts and words. You are ultimately responsible for the professional you become, so try not to rely on someone else to develop you into the professional you wish to be. Ensure that you meet your professional goals by identifying and promoting messaging that is true to who you are as a person and skilled worker to attract the career opportunities you most desire.
Be your own best advocate! Through personal storytelling, start aiming now for the types of experiences you wish to help define a better version of yourself for the future. After having practiced law now for over six years, please know that it only gets better from here.
© 2017 Melanie Glover. All rights reserved.
First image above: Shutterstock.