Mid-Career Switch

Episode 68: Taking The Leap – Becoming A Digital Strategist Mid-Career

Our parents graduated, entered the workforce in their twenties, and stayed with the same organization, often in a similar field for the entirety of their careers. They were also often able to comfortably afford their own homes in their early twenties, but hey, it was a different time.

Everything has since changed. The security that previous generations experienced in their work no longer exists. We live in a time of anxiety and change like we have never seen before. Technology has disrupted countless industries, eliminating certainties and making a mockery of the idea of tenure. It has levelled the international playing field, meaning that there is as much opportunity for someone on the other side of the planet to compete for your job in a way that was once impossible. The World really has become flat. Periodic recessions are met with immediate layoffs regardless of the ability or contributions of the employee. And in our industry, skills and experience that were once highly regarded are today irrelevant.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. All this disruption has opened up previously unheard of opportunities and mobility for those that welcome new challenges. Today, we are not expected to work for the same employer for the entirety of our careers. Indeed, today we are likely to have multiple careers within our working lives.

Given that, why would someone want to become a digital strategist mid-career? Let’s start with the premise that it is an attractive role. Not only is it in high demand, with a lot of organizations actively hunting for a relatively small pool of talent, it is also a role that is closely associated with organizational revenue and profitability. As such, it is also a high profile role, which to many people is quite appealing.

Who is most likely to want to become a digital strategist mid-career? In my experience, I’ve seen people from two distinct backgrounds transition into this role, for pretty obvious reasons. One is people from a sales or client service background who are used to solving customer problems. The other is people from technical backgrounds, usually development or media.

So if you are interested in becoming a digital strategist mid-career, how do you go about doing so?

First, understand the role of the digital strategist. As the resident storyteller who fundamentally understands the technical requirements to deliver success and how to translate them into business context, the strategist needs well developed hard and soft skills. The soft skills are the easily transferable ones, and are generally the ones that make this an attractive role. They include the ability to weave together a narrative, the ability to connect disparate strands into a holistic strategy, the ability to work with a variety of people and teams, and the ability to stay calm in difficult situations. These are typically skills that are developed over time, and as such make this a relatively straightforward transition for those that are mid-way through their careers.

Or rather, it would, if it weren’t for the hard skills. There is simply no compensating for hands-on direct digital experience. Without this, you are not going to be able to cross over into digital strategy because you won’t have any credibility with your subject matter experts or clients. This is absolutely critical. So how do you gain this experience in the first place if you are already employed elsewhere?

First, start while you are otherwise employed. If you start when unemployed, it becomes obvious that you are doing this out of necessity rather than out of passion. In other words, be strategic and give yourself options early on.

On the subject of passion, find yours and articulate it online through a blog, a podcast or a video channel. We have previously discussed the idea of digital strategy as a passion project. This is so important because it not only gives you your opportunity to develop those hard digital skills, it essentially becomes your online portfolio. When I interview interesting people from varied backgrounds for a strategic role, I will not consider them unless they have an online portfolio to showcase their digital capabilities and their ability to follow through on a passion project.

This is an exciting role that is bursting with opportunity and as a senior role is tailor made for those that are looking to transition to a new career. But it will not come easily, or without you making the effort. So plan early and find your passion. It’s your route into a mid-career transition as a digital strategist.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

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