People always want to know how to start careers in a field where maybe they have a boatload of enthusiasm, but little to no professional experience. This happens a lot in the creative industry – people from other fields want to ‘do something more creative’ or ‘be in a role that’s more strategic and about generating great ideas’. But you don’t need a resume full of experience (or even a job, for that matter) to generate good ideas, or harness your inner guru.
I’m not a big fan of career buzz words, but there is one I like and I tend to throw around a lot: Thought Leadership. TL is all about sharing information and ideas, positioning yourself as a thought leader and subject matter expert in your field by sharing relevant and interesting information about your industry with those also in the field. This is probably the quickest way to build your credibility from ground-up and increase your visibility in a field where you otherwise have no professional experience. Even if you do, it’s a great marketing tool that you’re not taking advantage of.
A great example of this is obviously blogging, and you don’t need a journalism degree from Syracuse to be a decent writer. Again, it’s about sharing relevant and interesting content that compels people to want to follow, respond to and share what you have to say. If writing really isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other ways to get a slice of the blogosphere cake. Start discussions on LinkedIN around relevant topics, or share interesting articles within your discussion groups and networks. Make it a point to identify 2 or 3 great industry blogs or writers whom you really respect, and start building your visibility on their blog by following them, and contributing positive feedback and insightful commentary.
Relevance is key though. There’s this one online career magazine geared toward recent college grads that constantly posts links to their articles on every LinkedIN group from here to China, and it’s really annoying, both to myself and the other participants in the group. Because where other people in the Art Directors Forum (for example) are sharing best practices for design and providing feedback on one another’s work, these folks are posting “5 Things Every Idiot Knows About Writing a Cover Letter”. Sure, it might be relevant to some, but it’s pretty obvious that they’re ignoring the interests and needs of the group’s audience, because they’re falling closer to spamming than they are providing quality content. While they think their building positive visibility, they’re actually doing the opposite and hurting their reputation by not being relevant. My point – relevance, and respect. Understand who your target audience is and strive to create a mutually beneficial relationship by providing quality, relevant content.
“Commenting on someone’s blog post or starting a LinkedIN discussion isn’t going to get me a job.” Perhaps not, but networking will, and being a relevant and interesting thought leader in your industry is one of the quickest ways to build up a solid network of strategic contacts, people in your field who not only now know who you are, but have an interest in what you have to say. You are positioning yourself as someone who understands your industry, and has the ability to influence others and create a positive impact. What company wouldn’t want someone like that on their team?
My fiance works for a very well-known tech startup in New York City and he got there by networking and schmoozing with people in his field whom he respected. He follows the most relevant thought leaders in web development, comments on their content, and attends different Meetup groups to share ideas and meet people who have a shared interest in tecchy topics. He didn’t have 10 years of experience in his field, but he had interesting ideas and relevant things to say, and one of those conversations became his new boss several months later.
The great thing about Thought Leadership is that anyone can utilize it as a brand and credibility-building tools, no matter what you do. Unless your occupation focuses around something illegal, or you’re one of those people who thinks it’s alright to air your dirty laundry out there on a blog because it’s a free country. It is a free country – and hiring managers are also free to Google you and read all of the potentially offensive or immature comments you’re spitting out onto the internet. You have to be able to separate the business versus personal space. Anyone has the freedom to share their opinion, but thought leadership is about doing it in an insightful and professional manner that adds (not detracts) credibility to your brand.
I graduated college with an art degree and two hundred grand worth of really good writing skills. Whoop-dee-doo! And while there once was a time where my claim to fame was kicking some serious butt at drawing superheros for the kids in elementary school, I’ve worked hard to transition the Dana Leavy brand so that is has a slightly different focus these days. What I’ve found to be most successful to me in repositioning myself from creative geek to career guru is understanding who I’m trying to reach. I ask myself, ‘who are the people out there who would really have an interest and benefit most from the information and insight I have to share, and then how do I reach them?’ For me, it’s a combination of blogging, following other industry blogs, and networking and building relationships through platforms like LinkedIN, Brazen Careerist and Twitter, where my folks are hanging out.
So perhaps you already know what it is you want to say, and what industry you want to transition into. Now give some thought to who your target audience is – who would be interested in the topics you have to share, and why would they be of value? Where do they hang out on the internet, what resources will help you reach them? Give that a thought for a second, and then put your thoughts out there and start building. Positioning yourself as an investment-worthy candidate means taking a risk and not being afraid to tell people that hey, you might be green (read: risky investment in HR speak) on paper, but you’re ready and willing to flex your chops and prove your worth!
And who doesn’t want that guy/gal on their team?