Speaking the Right Language for Where You Want to Go

Speaking the Right Language for Where You Want to Go

One of the biggest pitfalls in reinvention is when people try to skip this Law. In their rush to get started and reinvent themselves now, they see an opportunity and shoot off their résumé without adjusting it to explain in the target industry’s language how their experience is relevant. They’re often shocked when the only thing they hear in response to a job for which they were “perfect” is the sound of crickets.

In the best of economic times, pitching yourself for a position in a different industry without bothering to translate your background is a low-return strategy. In a tough job market, it can lower your chances to nil. If you don’t do any translation, yet clients or hiring managers “get” you anyway, it’s a sign that you are probably pursuing a traditional job change: same words, similar work parameters.

This law—learning to speak the language so that those in your new career understand you—is at the heart of the reinvention process.

Don’t underestimate its importance.

Since you are the one who wants a shot at something new, it’s up to you to be bilingual and help others understand what you have to offer.

When you reinvent your career, you’re asking people to take a chance on you. You could have the best track record in your current industry—but elsewhere, you’re an unknown quantity. When you speak the language of a new field, its members are comfortable that you understand their needs. It’s this sense of security that encourages them to take a risk on hiring you or engaging the services of your business.

Learning to Speak “Reinvention”.

How do you learn the vocabulary of a new industry? There are no handy language apps or cheat sheets, but there are plenty of resources for clues:

The Internet: The first place to begin every search. Google key words, check out industry blogs, and surf the Web sites of the top players in your target industry. This strategy can turn up interesting details and even job leads. (The Wall Street Journal recently reported that employers are moving away from online job boards in favor of their own Web sites when searching for candidates.)

Industry Trades: Made for insiders, industry trade publications are filled with the jargon of their
target audience and a veritable gold mine for the vocabulary you need. They are also a good
source of profiles on industry leaders. Whether you’re looking for a particular job or planning to strike out on your own as an entrepreneur, these background pieces offer insight into how others achieved success or solved the problems you are facing.

The News: Less helpful for specialized vocabulary, but critical for catching trends and other
information affecting your target industry. By reading The Wall Street Journal, The New York
Times, business magazines, and local papers, you will gradually recognize your target’s key
players, grasp its new technologies, and understand where the profit is made.

Specialty Products: When the golf opportunity suddenly popped up for Julie-Anne, she took a crash course in its language by watching golfing videos—the career reinvention equivalent of those “learn French in a week” apps. If you’re targeting an industry where consumers need to learn in order to use its products, check to see if there are any learning videos or guides that you can
review.

Classes: Depending on the industry you choose—especially if it’s trendy—there might be classes
offered, particularly online ones. A client of ours wanted to break into online ad sales and found several places that taught courses in that subject. A great source for finding such classes is the target industry’s trade association. They often offer webinars and seminars as learning opportunities for their members.

Going Beyond the Words

An old Czech proverb says, “Learn a new language and get a new soul.” Moving to a new career goes beyond just learning its words; it means adopting its customs and understanding its unwritten rules. In effect, reinvention requires you to become bicultural.

Tossing off an impressive phrase or two won’t cut it. The Natives in your new career will immediately see through that ruse, because speaking a language is also about understanding the unspoken nuances associated with that world.

Cultural immersion is the quickest way to become bicultural. To get up to speed in the unwritten mores of your new career, hang out with its Natives, read its trades, attend its industry conferences, and follow the flame wars on its blogs. Pay attention to what you observe, and check your interpretations with your Native board member.

Hidden Conflict that Could Stop You: Learning Too Much or Too Little

There are two ends of the language-learning spectrum, and neither one is good news when it comes to reinvention:

Perfectionists. At one end are perfectionists who won’t try out the new language until they’re completely fluent. This turns into a never-ending delaying tactic, since perfectionists agonize over every word, concerned that they’re missing something. They tend to get hung up at this stage over their perceived lack of proficiency.

Perfectionists are afraid that since they don’t understand 100 percent of the nuances, they’re destined to make a cultural faux pas. As a result, they often lose momentum before they can get their reinvention going. It’s like building a boat and never sailing in it—there’s always one more coat of paint to apply.

The solution for perfectionists: Get out into the real world! The key to the fluency you seek is practice. Without practice, you’re chasing a pipe dream. If you’re procrastinating or feeling hopeless, set a goal to schedule a meeting with a Native and enlist a friend to give you a pep talk and make sure you’ve followed through.

If you’re struggling with self-criticism or anxiety, understand that making mistakes is a natural part of learning a new language, and give yourself permission to make a few.

It only takes “good enough” to get where you want to go. And if you’re hiding secrets from Natives who could help, gather up your courage and share just one. Most likely you’ll hear “Been there, done that.”

Cultural Elitists. At the other end of the spectrum from perfectionists are cultural elitists who can’t be bothered learning a new language because they think that their old one rules. Cultural elitists assume that everyone speaks their language, so there’s really no need to learn any new vocabulary, much less make adjustments in behavior to “fit” into a new field. The reactions to their monolingual and ethnocentric outreach efforts range from polite rejection to deafening silence.

The solution for cultural elitists: Open up to the new! If you haven’t been getting a lot of response or traction, it’s a signal that you need to work harder at bridging the cultural divide.

If you’ve been bragging or indulging in nostalgia, recognize that where you’re headed is just as good as where you’ve been, and make it a point to combat your cultural elitism by looking for ways in which your new industry might actually be better than the old field. If you’ve fallen prey to know-it-all-ism, be willing to admit you don’t know it all, and be open to learning.

Coaching Action Steps

The first step in creating a Reinvention Résumé or Bio is to know what skills are necessary and valued in the new land.

Next, pull together a “translation list” or phrasebook of common terms in your target industry and have your Native board member vet it.

Redraft your résumé or bio, describing your skills, talents, background, and accomplishments in the language of the new industry. Make sure your translation is smooth enough that it is clear to potential employers or clients how your background is relevant.

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