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Interview with Dorie Clark

I had the chance to sit down with Dorie Clark, speaker, consultant and Forbes contributor, to discuss her new book Reinventing You
JG: Your new book,  'Reinventing You' is a fascinating look at personal career transition in the post-crisis/technology age. What inspired you to write it?
DC: I was inspired to write Reinventing You by my own career transition experience. After graduate school, I started my professional life as a print journalist. After only a year, I got laid off – and realized the industry was collapsing around me, and there were no other jobs to be had. I needed to come up with a new plan, and in the process, became a presidential campaign spokesperson, documentary filmmaker, nonprofit executive director, and ultimately a marketing consultant and author. I began to realize I wasn’t alone: these days, whether involuntarily (because they’ve been laid off or their industry is contracting) or voluntarily (because they want to try something different or more fulfilling), more and more people are seeking to reinvent themselves.
JG: Do you think that everyone needs a personal plan for reinvention? Are there instances where things aren't broke, but you don't realize it? How do you search for feedback that's constructive but doesn't send you off to Tibet, or at least a hasty decision that might derail you?
DC: I believe everyone should think consciously about their reputation – how are they perceived by others, and does that align with how they would like to be perceived? In any case where there’s a gap, you’ll want to take action, because in the balance lies your chances at winning a promotion, gaining a new client, getting a raise, or anything else that might be important to you professionally. When making changes, I advise people to “reinvent themselves with little bets” – meaning that you should always try out new possibilities before fully committing. If you think you’d like a new job in finance, maybe you should join a nonprofit board and serve on the audit committee before quitting your regular job; if you want to start your own business, shadowing a business owner for a few days could be extremely instructive.
JG: There's a great question you ask in conducting your personal self-assesment 'Are you too likable?' Can you explain?
DC: One challenge that many female executives face with their personal brands is that – unfortunately – competence and likeability are often viewed as inversely related. In other words, there can be a perception that if you’re really nice, you must be a little dumb. (Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has written about this.) That’s not a reason to start acting like a jerk, but it does mean you should think about how you’re coming off to others, because there may be such a thing as seeming “too nice.”
JG: What I really liked about 'Reinventing You' is how grounded and practical many of the ideas are, without appearing formulaic. How did you devise your system and approach to writing the book?
DC: As I mentioned earlier, one of my formative career experiences was working in politics. I was a presidential campaign spokesperson and communications advisor on gubernatorial races, senatorial races – you name it. Early in the campaign, you sit with the candidate and help them devise their message and figure out how to share it with the public. You start with who they are as a person (their authentic core and what they care about) and build in a narrative based on their experience, their vision for the future, and “proof points” – meaning, tangible things they can point to that they’ve accomplished. I realized that every professional actually needs to go through a similar process in order to stand out in the marketplace, so I wrote Reinventing You to help them do it.
JG: One of the things I've uncovered in my new book, The Athena Doctrine, is how important feminine traits and values are for leadership. Skills like empathy, collaboration and transparency that people around the world tend to ascribe as more feminine. Are women more apt to be prone to feedback and reinvention in your experience? What sort of mindset do people (men and women) need to have to go into re-invention mode?
DC: One reason women may be more likely to reinvent themselves is if they happen to have children and take time off work. That provides a break in continuity that allows (or sometimes forces) them to ask what they really want in their professional lives. One woman I profile in Reinventing You, Susan, was an investment banker whose job wasn’t supportive about her request for flex time after the birth of her child. She left that job and took several years off to be with her kids. When she started looking for other opportunities, she told me, “I didn’t want to go back and do what I did before. If I’m going to go back to work and not be with my kids, I’m going to do something I care about - something that motivates me, and feels like I’m making a difference.” She ended up finding an innovative way to apply her skills by working as a policy fellow for an environmental organization that was struggling to liaise with Wall Street.
In order to be successful at reinvention, both men and women need to adopt Susan’s mindset. She told me that you have to “accept the fact that sometimes you have to take one step back to take three or four steps forward. It would be incorrect if I said I made a lateral shift: I went backward. But because of the benefit of my years of professional experience in a competitive field, even though I went back, I was able to move forward fast – to leapfrog forward.” It can be hard to take that step; it can be a temporary ego blow to go backwards. But if you have the confidence to understand that you’re actually moving forward in the long-term, you can thrive.
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Dorie Clark is the author of “Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she is also a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press, Clark is a marketing strategy consultant and speaker for clients ranging from Google to Yale University to the World Bank. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more at dorieclark.com or follow her on Twitter @dorieclark.

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