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The Alchemy of Career Re-Invention!

Author : Dilip Saraf
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On Saturday, March 28, there is a Pan-IIT Job Fair in Santa Clara, where two Silicon Valley luminaries will share their career paths and how they re-invented themselves to get to where they are today. Their stories will be showcased as Fireside Chats in an interview-exchange format, when the attendees will get to hear them. In addition, there are about a dozen world-class companies (Google, LinkedIn, among others) on hand to talk to participants about the job opportunities they have. More details about the Job Fair are at

I have been invited to also participate and conduct short one-on-one sessions with those interested in the nuts and bolts of career re-invention. In my own case Im now in my fifth career, and what I learned through those transitions (in five different industries) is now codified into my own career coaching practice. During the past 15 years I have worked with over 6,000 clients in 23 countries; of those about 10% of the clients have successfully gone through major re-inventions; minor re-inventions are too numerous to count.

So, what is a major re-invention?

A major career re-invention is where you decide to go in a completely new direction. What are some of the examples of such transitions? Well, from my own practice here are a few worthy of note: From a software engineer to a zoo-keeper; from a stuck functional department head to an entrepreneur; from a practicing physician to an IT executive focused on streamlining medical records; from a neurosurgeon to a Chief Medical Officer in a pharma company. Minor re-inventions typically include moving from software development to product management or going from a consulting practice delivery professional to leading a team in a Professional Services organization.

Each re-invention need stems from some inspiration, requires risk-taking, and to have a strategy that will work for you. In this blog I plan to outline a re-invention framework that I have codified over the years based first on what worked for me in my own transitions, how it translated into my practice template, and then how it could be applied to each interested client in their own career transition.

The following are key factors in making a successful re-invention:

  1. The Trigger: Any one factor can trigger an urge for a career re-invention: A lay-off too late in life or one after another (as it happened in my own case: My first lay-off came at 47 as head of engineering, when I decided that I could not afford a lay-off at 59 or later in my life, and decided to take charge of my own career). Other triggers are too numerous to list: a series of bad bosses, stultifying job assignments, too much politics at work, too much time away from family, incompetent bosses, and so on.
  2. Opening your eyes: No matter where you are now the change velocity is fierce. Technology and social factors are driving these changes. Rapid globalization is yet another factor that provides us new impetus to pursue exciting opportunities. So, if you look around and see where the action is, it is inevitable that you will be drawn to making some change in the way you are engaging your everyday talents in what you do. Such realization can be a start of a career re-invention process.
  3. Deciding on your new avatar: If something inspires changing your career (not just your job) one of the first steps is about owning your new identity. Shifting from merely doing something to being, is at the heart of a meaningful change. By this I mean understanding what your passions are and seeing yourself in an entirely different identity. When you go from merely doing (I do career coaching) to being (I transform my clients lives) you are changing how you engage in your pursuits. Surveys have shown that nearly 80% of the employees do what they do for a mere paycheck; the remaining 20% are engaged to make a difference in our lives. Clearly envision what you could do being part of that 20%!
  4. Re-packaging your message: A career re-invention is not merely about going to a rsum writer and asking them to write or even re-write your current rsum. But, it IS about translating your deepest convictions about what you can do in a new career into a message with a language that resonates with those skeptics who are going to hire you. This is soulful work and does not happen overnight. It involves much introspection, research, insights about your new path, and converting all of this understanding into a language on your born-again rsum that provides the ammunition you need to convince the doubters that you are worth looking at. This is despite when your friends laugh at you, the everyday recruiters shun you, and you lie awake at night wondering what you have got yourself into!
  5. Networking and marketing yourself: In her classic book, Working Identity, author Herminia Ibarra reminds those going in a new direction to give themselves three years to see if your new pursuit will even pan out. This is because when you assume a new identity you must build a new vocabulary, new networks, and a new brand for yourself. All of which takes about three years if you are really diligent about it. Throughout my five careers (four career changes) I found this to be true, and, before I read the book, I blamed myself for being inefficient at making such transitions, since they all took about three years to mature!
    I tell my clients that well before they launch their quest for a new career that they must start networking with those already in that space and start becoming familiar with that ecosystem and let it become familiar with them. Such pre-work can give you a jump-start and accelerate your transition to effectively use the three years that give you the runway to decide whether to move forward with the change you just made.
  6. Differentiate yourself: Once you get into your new arena you must differentiate yourself from all the other competition you already haveand you encounterby using your fresh perspective to delve in innovation and in engaging how you create fresh value in your new role. Here, you have an edge, because unlike the incumbent playersyour competitorsyou are not hidebound by tradition and can challenge their status quo. You must create your own path, innovate, and differentiate yourself. This happens more naturally than you can imagine and this is the beauty of a true career re-invention!
  7. Dont stagnate: Even the new career will have some points of stagnation. Now that you have learned how to reinvent yourself always keep your eyes open for your next re-invention!

If you are not totally risk-averse career re-invention can be an adventure at any age (my last one was when I turned 60). Try to internalize this framework and take the plunge. It is easier than most imagine and certainly more adventurous than keep doing the same thing again and again, even when you hate it!

If you are local to the Silicon Valley I would like you to sign-up for this Job Fair ( and come see me for your own re-invention. Just bring your rsum, your dream, and line-up for a quick 1:1 with me that Saturday. See you then!

Good luck!

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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