Marketing yourself – whether for a career transition or for a new position in your current field starts with taking a good look at yourself and defining who you are and who you want to be. The better you can examine and answer questions about yourself, the easier it will be for others to understand who you are, how to help you get there, and whether you’re the right person for the job they’re seeking to fill.
Defining your vision and setting goals
The first step is to create a “vision.” It tells the story:
Who you want to be
What you want to be doing
Where you want to be doing it
When you want to get there
Defining a vision, and creating a plan to reach that vision, will help you organize your time, focus the volume of information available, and yield a sense of accomplishment to keep you motivated. As you develop your vision, write it down in a formal vision statement.
Next, list the steps you have already taken and steps you need to complete to reach your vision. Start by conducting a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on yourself in your target market. Essentially, list your strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities you see ahead, and the threats you face.
Then, establish SMART goals—goals that are crafted carefully to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reaching, and Time-Sensitive. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a resource on SMART goals.
Writing a succinct vision statement
If you've put together a good transition plan, you have a vision statement already prepared. Now you need a short version. You need a simple one- or two-line vision statement that is succinct and easy to remember. This is a key deliverable before you start to network or work with your mentors. You want to look focused and driven, and avoid confusion. No one will remember a complex vision with variable ideas. The more concise and unique the value position you provide, the more likely it is that you will be thought of to fill an open position. This short vision is a key piece for your marketing leave-behind or "business card resume."
Budgeting for salary negotiations
Do you know the minimum salary you can accept in order to pay your bills? A lot of people only have a rough estimate—and that can lead to problems down the road. Before you send out any cover letters or resumes, preparing a personal budget is a critical first step in your job search.
To prepare your budget, use the AVMA Personal Financial Planning Tool. This resource will have you include everything you need to understand your financial status. Monthly payments on car and student loans, credit cards and family loans can be entered. Your monthly living expenses, such as rent/mortgage, insurance, utilities, food, fuel, retirement, clothes and entertainment are important pieces of information. Include adding an amount to build up an emergency fund or college savings. Taxes on income and real estate need to be considered. Moving expenses and investments are some miscellaneous expenses you might want to add in, especially if you'll be relocating to take a position.
Crafting a 30-second elevator speech
The term "elevator speech" refers to the amount of time you have to make a pitch about yourself (or a product) ... which is about the length of a typical elevator ride.
These are the essential ingredients of a good elevator speech:
What problem you solve in your work (as opposed to simply stating you are a veterinarian) – for example, you help educate people about animal health so they can enjoy their animals for many problem-free years
What type of work you would like to do – for example, private practice, shelter, research, or academia – and your areas of interest
What skills you have that can benefit a potential employer
Practice this speech. Change it as needed. You'll find it particularly helpful in social settings, job fairs, on airplanes, and, yes, on elevators. But be prepared to cut it short if you see that you are losing the listener's interest.
After you've said your well-honed, well-practiced piece, stop and listen to what the other person has to say. You'll find that you're more successful and learn more... the less you talk.
Networking is one of your key tools for transitioning into a new type of career. It starts with meeting people and exchanging ideas. It is common for people to feel uncomfortable about "schmoozing" or socializing in a crowd. But you can approach it as if you were doing research. When you have a client present a case with which you are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, you start calling people, talking with colleagues, and asking around at meetings in search of information. You are looking for a lead to find a new idea or new method to treat this client's pet.
Networking is the same, only you are searching for information about career paths and roles. You just start by asking one person, who may refer you to another. Remember, for nearly everyone, the subject which they feel most comfortable discussing is themselves. If you are sincerely interested in someone's story, they are almost always willing to talk about it. They will have interacted with others along their path, and these names can become your next lead to explore your perfect career path. In a way, people like to "name drop" because they like to feel connected to a group or their profession. They often will be happy to refer you to the leaders or influential professionals who have helped them. These are key leads to explore for another type of network: mentors.
Choose where to network: After you have researched your vision and plan for your next career, look for the groups that exist for professionals in the field that interests you. Join a couple of these groups, and also attend seminars and workshops for your target profession. Here you should be focused both on bolstering your skills to address weaknesses identified in your SWOT analysis but also networking and exploring for mentors.
Take them to lunch: Remember those sales representatives who came into your clinic and wanted to take you to lunch? They wanted you and your practice in their network. Now you are the sales representative, and your new brand (yourself) needs a network to market your success. So ask someone in a target career, "Can we get together for lunch and talk about how you developed your career into a successful [research biologist for your company]?" Just think about how companies market to you and show you the value of their products. You don't have to re-invent the wheel; just look for successful wheels and use them. You can approach a speaker at a convention related to the career you hope to pursue and ask her: "I am interested in the project you presented about South America. Would you have time to meet with me? Maybe we could go to lunch, to talk about getting from clinical practice to reducing rabies in children in the developing world?" If she is not available for lunch, she likely will give you contact information to set up a meeting. You can also try these fun and effective tips prepared by AVMA's Early Career Development Committee which were geared toward standing out in a new job, but are just as relevant when it comes to networking with people.
Be proactive: You have to follow up with every contact, lead, and mentor. Your new career search is job #1 for you, but not for them. They have their own job #1. So follow up and be repetitive. It is well documented that people must hear something 6-7 times before they really start to remember. Do you remember having to repeat that information to your clients in order to achieve solid client compliance? This is a similar situation.
Present yourself professionally: People often think of career searching and networking as a casual affair. But these are first impressions, and they matter when you are building your brand. The time when your guard is down is when your image will be tested. So you need to be sharp at all times. It isn't easy, and it might not be fair, but when you are out of your house, people are judging you. If you want to represent someone's company, they will judge that representation at every encounter.
Talking points: Your network will talk about you, so control their talking points. Give them the talking points. Remember to include your personal plan when discussing career paths and objectives. People often want to leave all options open to avoid missing any potential job. But this makes other people wary of recommend you, if they sense that you have no direction. The more specifically you have thought about your next role from both a professional and personal level, the more likely it is that you will be successful. People will more easily be able to grasp your vision, picture your mission, and understand your brand when the specific role opens up that is right for you. How often will a company look for someone willing to live anywhere and willing to do anything? Never. Companies have specific needs, and they reach out to their networks to find that specific someone with the specific ability to match that specific role. So you need to be specific when talking with your network and mentors.
Join groups: Target 3-5 groups in which you can be active and make expanding contact. Joining 12-15 groups just to be on the member list provides no real value because people still don't know you. Join fewer groups, and you might be able to become an officer. You might be able to go to the national meeting and expand your network across the country or world. And, take the opportunity to give presentations to groups. Exposure doesn't happen without getting out and getting involved. Any chance you have to speak to a group, no matter the theme, will make all your communications better.