Working Identity Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra

Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra

6 MinutesIn Book Reviews

£14.99 From Waterstones

Time to Read: Over a couple of weeks probably. Each of the case studies are different, allowing a natural break point in chapters and also for your brain to click into a new story. If you have no time, just read the 10 suggestions at the end of the book which will give you a flavour, but I suspect they will be hard internalise and act on without more context. There is no audiobook version available.


This is one of the books I have recommended the most over the past 10 years of working with senior leaders considering or going through career transition.


This book is a clever combination of theory and practical examples of people making significant career changes.

For example, Ibarra brings to the front of your mind the strength of weak ties – the people closest to you are often unlikely to provide useful connections for your new career, especially if there are consequences for them from your change. However, the people they know and with whom you therefore will have some transferred goodwill, are not concerned on you staying where you are and so are happy to create opportunities for you to open a coffee shop, if they can provide them.

Think those people in your key friends’ LinkedIn networks that you are not already linked with.

I was not keen on the opening example of a psychiatrist becoming a Buddhist monk – but ploughed beyond that. Some of the examples are necessarily dated now but I do not believe that takes away at all from the concepts and the way to apply them so that you do not remain one of the 80 per cent of people who does not like their current job.

The final chapter summarises 10 unconventional strategies for making a career change – when the point is that there is no ’10-point plan for making a career change’, otherwise more of us would do it.


Ibarra is a Harvard Business School faculty member and latterly INSEAD Professor of Organisational Behaviour.

This volume is one of three that I would always recommend to people serious about embarking on the career change process, along with ‘Playing Big’ by Tara Mohr and ‘The First 90 Days’ by Michael Watkins.

As to how she recommends moving through this process, my summary of her work is:

Act your way into the new route – you cannot get there by merely ‘thinking’ about it – in fact, analysis is worse than useless, just try doing some things

  1. There is no single answer to which career is right for you – there are many, which is great, but means doing something about it.
  2. Transition time is ok. In fact, it is key. Notice that it is transition time – the place between holding on and letting go.
  3. One big decision will not change everything in one fell swoop. It is rare to get it right on a first try.
  4. Test and trial on projects, in outside work trials…reflect, learn and do again… ‘Experiment seriously without making (an irrevocable – my insertion) commitment’.
  5. Do not just focus on the ‘work’ piece of the change – who are the people doing what you want to do or inspire you to change? It is a common theme amongst entrepreneur types that they asked people for help and got it. Don’t ask, won’t get.
  6. It is not all going to become clear tomorrow. It is not. The truth will not be revealed. So, keep testing and trialling the story, with both supporters and the more sceptical. Refresh and retell the story.
  7. It can be tiring and can lead to tunnel vision. So, plan times to step back and step out – go to the gym, go for a run, a walk, sit outside with no electronics or books and just think. Refresh and retell….
  8. We do not run at the same openness to change levels all the time – so when we are ‘feeling it’ we need to grab it, and when we are not feeling it, that is ok too.
  9. We do not know where we are going. Where we think we are going is unlikely to be where we end up. In the meantime, we trial identities, network to discover opportunities and get closer to the answers we are looking for.

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