November 21, 2016

Reinventing yourself and changing your own market perception

Twenty four months ago I was working in New York and taking the first steps towards what would turn out to be my first job offer at a startup. It was the culmination of a long process - it took me years to get there - that ultimately did not work as planned (after accepting the offer I had received, US immigration authorities ruled out against granting me an O-1 visa that would have replaced my then in force L-1 visa).

Things have evolved substantially since then. Shortly after the disappointment I experienced when my visa got denied, I landed a job at another startup in Spain and, a bit less than 1 1/2 years later, I will be shortly taking a new role at a promising fintech company in Berlin as country manager for Spain.

Even though I cannot say that I have hit a home run yet, I can't help feeling a sense of pride for having accomplished a big transition from professional services - first as an M&A and finance attorney, then in biz dev roles - into the startup space. Little by little, after investing a lot of time and effort, I have been able to change the market perception of my own brand as an employee.

Although certain countries tend to have more flexible recruiting cultures that appreciate transferable skills - e.g. I find the US quite flexible, while Spain is just the opposite - your college degree and work experience will vastly determine how you are perceived in the job market. As you grow older, the "weight" of such background becomes heavier and makes switching industries and functions increasingly harder.

That being said, I thought it would be useful to share my experience and contribute a few thoughts from my own "reinvention" process:

1. Understand your role's and industry's perception: some functions (e.g. financial roles) and sectors (e.g. management consulting) put you in a better place to make a transition, even at a young age. Some others (e.g. law practice - that was my case) are more ring-fenced and harder to leverage outside of their own circle.

Don't get caught for too long in something you know you don't want to do long term, even if it pays well (and assuming you can afford to let it go). You will regret it a few years later.

2. Leverage the master's degree window of opportunity: studying some kind of master's degree can be a good way to change roles and industries (again, I find Anglo-Saxon work cultures more open to change than others). However, bear in mind that the window of opportunity for such a transition is limited: 1 to 1.5 years following graduation, I'd say.

For instance, I completed my MBA from NYU to pursue such change in 2008 when, unfortunately, everything started to fall apart; so my ability to switch was severely compromised.

3. Embrace the two-step transition: you may be able to switch functions and industries at once, but doing so in two separate steps is more realistic and financially rewarding. Leverage what you already know for tour first move; then use what you are learn (and who you know) at your new gig to complete the second step.

I transitioned from being a lawyer to business development roles in professional services. Then, I was able to switch to business-oriented roles in the tech space.

4. Get out of your day-to-day comfort zone: if you want things to change but you keep doing the same things that you typically do in your usual work environment, such change will be much harder. You need to let fresh air into the room. Get out of your comfort zone and find ways to get closer to the industry where you want to be.

I find events and meet-ups particularly useful in this regard. There are plenty of things out there in substantially every industry, so start digging up information and investing time. It is going to be a bit stressful and tiring, but nothing is free, I'm afraid.

Also, network carefully and regularly. Reach out to friends and acquaintances who can make an intro for you. Sometimes it will feel a bit awkward and overwhelming to take the first step but, in my experience, a majority of people are willing to help if they can. Be tactful, thankful and open to return the favor.

5. Show that you really want it: there are many ways these days in which you can show where your interests lie. Start following people and being active (tweet, retweet) on Twitter, start your own blog covering the topics and industries you are targeting, open a Medium profile, be mindful of your Linkedin profile (share your content, tailor your profile), etc.

Again, this will take quite a bit of time but you have an arsenal at your reach.

6. Worship your job hunting: looking for a job is not easy, it is a job in itself, even more so if you are fighting to get to a place where you have never been before.

On the one hand, make sure that you are looking in the right places (it is not the same to look for jobs in, say, startups, than in pharma companies). Once you have spotted those, create customized job search agents to spot openings in a centralized way, search regularly, be methodic and keep track of where and when you are looking.

On the other, make sure that your resume and cover letters convey the messages that you need, both in terms of framing and adapting your background in an appealing way (as you will seldom be as well suited for the roles as others with more specific experience) and highlighting the passion and interest that you have in a specific area.

And if you make it to an interview, research the company as if there was no tomorrow. This is an area where you can beat other candidates who, at first sight, may be better suited for the role.

7. Don't be desperate. It takes time to change jobs. It takes even more time to do so when you are switching drastically. Keep trying, hang in there and cheer yourself for any small accomplishment.

I wish I had been able to transition well before it happened. There were times when I thought about giving up as things were not moving as I would have expected. But I was resilient...and it ultimately paid off.

I hope this helps, until next time!