As a search professional, not a week goes by when executives do not tell me they wish to change their career paths. If it is not a shift from that of CIO to another role in the C-suite, it is a shift within IT from one specialization to another, such as from corporate systems management to omnichannel development or to BI.
Everyone's professional brand takes years to develop. That brand is the accumulation of people's perceptions of your successes and failures. Once established, it can be maddeningly difficult to reshape in people's minds. Demonstrating your breadth of thought leadership in social media can take you only so far. A certification or an advanced degree in a targeted specialty area can provide evidence of your professional commitment to a discipline, as will your adoption of the nomenclature and perspectives of that specialty. But for most, it is your career accomplishments that will etch your brand most in people's minds.
Rebranding yourself requires forethought, beginning with making your career goals clear to your boss, and seeking his or her support of your transformation. If you are known as a driver, an innovator or a change agent who can be counted on to get things done, it will not take a great leap of faith by your peers or more senior executives to see you accomplishing those same ends in your desired new role. Enlist their support.
When to Rebrand Yourself
Rebranding yourself is next to impossible when you are between jobs - which, unsurprisingly, is when people are most often inspired to make a career change. But employers are highly resistant to hiring outsiders who have never been in a specific role previously, and no matter how much you attempt to reinvent yourself in a resume, the truth of who you are is embedded in the evidence of your past accomplishments.
Some try to reinvent that evidence with clever rephrasing. It is a fool's errand and ultimately can reveal you as disingenuous - or worse yet of taking credit by association of others' accomplishments - when in reality you were a peripheral player. What you can and should always do is to write about the business value of your accomplishments, not the IT value, but also be clear about your role. Authenticity is as key to your rebranding as is the perception of corporate leaders that you are more like them than they may have realized.
So how should you begin to reshape your brand outside the specialization or functional area for which you're best identified with? At a minimum, raise your hand and volunteer to be part of a team that explores something outside your known area of expertise, possibly new to the company (e.g. creation of new business models enabled by fresh technology solutions). Break free of your own typecasting and impress a broader spectrum of leaders. Become known within your company as a contributor who is forward-thinking, exploring new approaches that will measurably benefit the business. Show everyone you are hungry to learn. Then demonstrate your accumulated knowledge at every opportunity.
If you want to move within IT into any new role, bond with as many leaders as possible in that function. Earn their trust and admiration for what you bring to their function. Being seen as one of them will be key to being invited into their world.