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on October 16, 2003
I have read the "What Color is you Parachute"- types of career management books and, as Ibarra says in Working Identity, while books such as these provide useful, introspective exercises for inventorying your skillsets and interests, they have never provided me with the magical answer I was looking for in terms of what I want to do with my life. If anything I actually became more frustrated, because I had invested all of this time doing the exercises and still only had a few faint ideas for careers that might interest me.
Working Identity provides a very refreshing perspective, and one that I agree with. That while introspection is good and necessary, it is doubtful that introspection alone will provide us with the answer of what we want to do. Rather, only through new experiences and relationships will we begin to "think out of the box", so to speak, and get a true sense for what we enjoy and for what motivates us.
I highly recommend this book to anybody who feels stuck in a professional rut and is not quite sure how to get out of it. Not only will you be able to empathize with some of the individuals in the case studies, but I believe the book will help you to begin thinking in a new way, in terms of how to initiate change in your life.
However, I do have a few criticisms of the book. At several times I had to ask myself who was Ibarra's intended audience, career changers or her fellow professors? Many times it just sounded unnecessarily "academic" in tone, particularly in the beginning of the book where she uses several pages to form "models" for her particular theories. Again, it is as if her audience at this point are her fellow professors and academians, rather than simply the frustrated individual who is trying to create a career change. It is not difficult to understand, but she just makes it sound much more complicated than it needs to be, when in reality the theory/model is just common sense: Make a list of things you're interested in, go explore them a bit, and then go with the flow based on how that experience makes you feel.
Another criticism I have is that all of the individuals highlighted in her case study examples are very highly educated, and seemingly have done very well for themselves financially. In and of itself this is not a problem, in that the case studies are still interesting. The subjects she uses are most likely a product of the circles in which she runs, as Ibarra is, after all, a professor. However, I really would have liked to see more diversity in the subjects that she chose, as I think the book could really have spoken to a lot more people who are struggling with career change.
For example, she frequently cites that "taking a sabbatical" from work is one great way to break out of the box and start looking at some new interests. No doubt, a sabbatical sounds really great to must of us, but unfortunately the reality is that there are not many people who can afford to just stop working. There are plenty of very intelligent, educated professionals who are supporting families or have other committments, and it's just not realistic for them to take a sabbatical. Of course, it would be impossible for Ibarra to address every different situation, but I would have liked to see her stretch the case studies beyond the $100K+ professional with a Master's or PhD. Again, this is just another area where I think Ibarra makes the change process sound more complicated than it needs to be. My personal suggestion to someone who is not in a financial position to "take a sabbatical" would be simply to volunteer an hour or two a week in a charity, church, or other organization that is important to you, where you have the opportunity to use and explore some different skills than what you would normally do during your work day. I have personally found this to be very valuable, but for some reason I never saw volunteering suggested by Ibarra in her book.

These criticisms aside however, this book is revolutionary in that it challenges 95% of the career change advice that is out there right now and provides a new and very refreshing perspective on how an individual will typically journey towards change. It is not a "how to" book that provides a step by step process, but rather a book that will help you "think out of the box" and come up with ideas that you can apply in your own life. Again, I highly recommend this book to anyone who 1. has been frustrated with the traditional career change books (as I was), and/or 2. who just feels they are in a career rut and isn't quite sure how to break out.
Best of luck to you!
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on March 2, 2003
In a nutshell, this book has helped me immensely in developing possible career paths. The main premise of the book is that the answer to "What should I do with my life?" does not typically come in a flash of insight or by seeking to discover yourself first. Rather, it comes from trying different ideas or alternatives and then reflecting on the experiences.
I have been engaged in the exercise of finding the right career for the past three years. I have did all manners of self-tests, journals, coaching and personality tests to find the answer. This isn't to say that my efforts were wasted because I was able to gain clarity into what I liked and disliked. The problem is that I never took action because I was looking for an "aha!" moment of discovery that never came. By reading "Working Identity" I have discovered that it is normal not to have an "aha!" and that the real value is taking what I have done and put it into action in order to discover what I would like to do.
In addition to the approach described by the author, the book is a short read, is well researched(with the research methods included) and has numerous stories as examples. The writing does get somewhat dry and academic in parts, but that is more than offset by the approach, short length and the stories.
I highly recommend!
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I recommend this book because it turns the world of career counseling upside down, offering a welcome antidote to the traditional career counselors, outplacement folks and coaches who rely heavily on "assessment" and chirpy philosophies of, "If you dream it, you can do it."
Ibarra's greatest contribution is to emphasize that self-analysis and action must go together. A focus on self-analysis is easier for the client and more lucrative for a counselor or coach. As she says, implementation is more challenging and difficult than diagnosis. Additionally, she goes beyond the typical "Get out and network!" advice, offering a theory-based prescription to network with strangers and distant acquaintances. And she emphasizes that career change is a winding road, not a straight line -- something any experienced career counselor should know. Her examples echo other recent research by career psychologists, focusing on serendipity as a career force.
Mid-career changers have to be especially creative when making career decisions. My only quibble is that her examples come from very well-educated, successful, sophisticated, under-50 career changers. (I detected one 53-year-old male, mentioned briefly.) Those over fifty tend to face additional challenges. However, the principles can be used by anyone at any career stage.
Working Identity has a more serious tone than the typical self-help book, perhaps reflecting the author's research and the Harvard publishing imprint. It is not a fast, entertaining read, like so many self-help books, and the author offers no exercises to the reader.
Ibarra does not discuss social support that might come from friends, family or a paid coach or counselor. I would have liked to see more discussion of the role of personal conflict, such as divorce, on career change, and I would expect to see at least a disclaimer to differentiate a desire for a new career from depression or other psychological crises. The author stresses the need to find a new community, but there's usually a lonely spot when a career-changer has left the old community yet not been accepted by the new. There are several parallels with my own book, Making the Big Move, which discusses identity loss in the context of relocation.
On the other hand, this book succeeds precisely because it avoids many of the pitfalls of the mass market self-help genre. I am recommending Working Identity to just about everyone I know. No glitz, no hype -- it's the Real Deal.
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on July 6, 2004
Even after completing an MBA and spending 12 years in marketing in various companies, I still had no real sense of what I wanted to do with my life (career-wise). I undertook many so-called career tests (Myer-B, etc) and completed many exercises in loads of books (Parachute, etc), but none seemed to offer any plan or guidance as to what to do next. It was nice to know what I enjoyed doing, what skills are preferred and so on - but that really offered little in practical advice as to what to do next. This book offers practicality, and interesting case studies that I could directly relate to, thus providing a reference map of what to do next. So many of Herminia's people profiled in this book had similar career issues as me, and it was nice to know I wasn't alone. But better still, it was nice to know there was a way out too. I particularly related to the person in the book who had so many interests (like me) but no clear singular passion, so he built a portfolio of jobs and activities to satisfy his interests. It was nice to know that such a choice can be made in today's world, where specialisation in corporate environments appears the only way to get ahead, at least financially and status of position. But sometimes being a generalist can be even more satisfying, as you're doing what you really want to do, not what others think you should do. I highly recommend this book.
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on August 5, 2004
The most frequent advice the author seems to give, is "Take a sabbatical". Iberra ofers little advice for the person who is ready for change, but simply can't afford to make it. If you make less than six figures a year, you'll find yourself asking "Uh... what am I going to eat while I do that?".

Beyind this, though, the book does deal with how to emotionally navigate the hurdles of being "between two worlds" while changing careers, so it's not a total loss.

Myself, I find that I fell into a career track that I never wanted, and know I want out. I need the financial and navigational help to move back towards where I wanted to be originally, or find something new. This book doesn't provide that, as much as the emotional support needed to convince yourself you really have chosen the wrong path.

If you're wealthy, this book will work for you. If not, you may want to look for another one, as this one has some items of use for you, but you'll have to work to find them.
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on December 5, 2002
This is a book for people that don't know what they want to do when they grow up. Most career books take the position that you can divine what you want to do through introspection and self-analysis.(See, for example, What Color is Your Parachute?)
The primary message of this book is get out of your head, get out in the real world and start experimenting,even on a part time basis,with the things you think you might like to do. It's a decent read and full of interesting ideas for people who want to change their careers.
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on December 7, 2002
I would guess that most working professionals think seriosly at one time or another about changing careers. Many of us actually DO change careers. This book builds on research that shows that too much introspection can be paralyzing - and that there is no "true essence of me" or "a perfect job for me." We all have many possible working identities, and the way to find the right one for us right now is to take time to TRY some of these out - to take action and find out what it would be like. The book gives many case studies and makes a compelling case. Too bad for all the career-change counselors who are about to find out they've been advising people exactly the WRONG way all this time. Great stuff here.
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on May 19, 2004
This well-written, thought provoking book provides reassurance and guidance for anyone considering a career change. Unlike many self help manuals it is realistic about the immense upheaval a mid-life career transition can cause. The case studies helped me understand just why changing career is so hard, especially if you have been successful and well rewarded/ respected in your 'first' career. The fact that so many of the interviewees took several years to find their new identity gives hope to high flyers who want to make a change but are unsure as to how to make the leap.
Ibarra explores career change as identity change which gives a far more intellectually driven and in depth perspective to approaching a 'new you' than other books which simply ask you to look at your strengths and weaknesses and get on with applying for a new job or reskilling yourself for a new career. Like going into a fancy dress shop Ibarra recommends trying out new career identities for size - by making new contacts, re-establishing peripheral contacts or trying new jobs unpaid or part time.
Highly recommended for all those stuck in a career rut, those en-route to career self-actualisation or who simply want to put out feelers as to what else might be out there.
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on December 29, 2002
Working Identity is a gift to professionals who are no longer satisfied with their careers and who aren't sure what to do about it. For those of us trapped in jobs that no longer give us pleasure, trapped because we don't want to be seen as quitters, or because we don't want to let down "the team," or because we are just too steeped in the culture and logic of a profession to see our way out, Ibarra offers valuable guidance.
She first makes it OK not to be satisfied. Part of personal growth is leaving situations that no longer serve our needs. Through the telling of several stories from her research on people who have made mid-career transitions, you learn that you are not alone - responsible people holding down important jobs and supporting families go through the same process.
Of course, questioning your current state is just the first step. Ibarra also offers simple and wise suggestions for affecting career changes tailored to your needs. (The simplicity of the book belies the depth of the research behind it.)
The book is in no way formulaic. Ibarra makes it clear that only through trial and error can one find a more meaningful career. But, as she points out, "fortune favors the prepared mind." Working Identity helps the professional prepare for positive change.
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on August 26, 2003
This is a beautifully conceived, one of a kind book. It's method is strongly scientific, based on a collection of case studies, asking how do people really change careers? This being the case, then what sort of structure or theory would best describe this process? This might sound dry or uselessly academic but it's not, it gives the quietest advice and the most assured guidance. If you are passionately working through your own career change, it's very likely you are experiencing much that is described in these case studies, and unlike the highly structured step by step guides to career change, you might find the reflection of your own experience very encouraging.
The theory itself is simply stated, easy to understand, but neither superficial nor dumbed-down. In a nutshell, this book debunks the clean sequence of career change from analysis (questionnaires, introspection, structured exercises) to action (now let's find that job). Rather, as long as you are strongly bound to your old working identity, this clarity is not possible. One learns what one wants to do by doing, by trial and error experiments in new tasks. One's working identity is also held in place by our professional relationships, by people who view you as you already appear. These relationships reinforce and support your current situation, so if you do want to explore a change, new professional relationships (new mentors and peers) will be necessary. Viewing one's working identity as involvement in professional tasks and relationships, tapping into new possibilities isn't as easy as doing a questionnaire. Rather, your working identity must be loosened before you can fully experience new possibilities and ultimately commit to a new career. Basically, it's a muddle: if you're experiencing doubt, confusion and a sense of limbo that doesn't mean you're not on the right track. You are making the harrowing crossing between identities. Embedded in the case studies--and the authors discussion--are ways in which people actively made this crossing, so this work also offers guidance about how to press on, despite the confusion. Very encouraging, very useful.
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