“A 21st century skillset is about learning, unlearning and relearning. You can’t just say, I’ve learned it. Ok. The most successful people have the humility to say, ‘Ok, I don’t know this and I need to learn it, and then learn it and apply it.” Bonnie Datta of Siemens on my podcast, Green Connections Radio
Datta had a thriving career leading international and national strategic marketing initiatives for the Singapore Economic Development Board and enjoyed living in Singapore. Then, her husband was offered a major career opportunity with Apple in Silicon Valley, California and she had to make a choice.
Did she want to live apart from her husband and keep her great job in Singapore, or “start from scratch” in the United States, where immigration laws prohibit her from earning income until an employer sponsors her as a permanent resident, aka a “green card”? She put her ego on a shelf and decided to start over in the U..S.
And so began a journey that brought Datta self-awareness, humility, new people, new customs, a new career path and a trove of new learnings. How she did it and what she learned from doing so can help any of us facing unexpected career disruption convert it into an enriching and rewarding new path.
Here are 9 tips from her journey and our conversation:
Ø “Firstly, you have to believe in yourself. Please never give up,” Datta stressed.
Ø Identify the field you think you want to work in: Having come from government, and prior to that from the private sector, Datta knew she liked the intersection of the two. What shape that would take was still foggy as she began.
Ø Volunteer: Since Datta could not yet legally work for income, she decided that volunteering was a way in to build new relationships and learn whatever she needed to. So, she joined the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and became an unpaid advisor.
Ø Identify what fascinates you: For Datta, the clean energy space captured her attention, so she decided to find projects to volunteer for that would enable her to learn as much about it as she could.
Ø Take courses in the new topic: It’s never too late. These can be executive education certificate programs, or Udemy online courses, for example. I earned my MBA as a “grown up” and it was the best decision. I’ve done all kinds of additional trainings, from certificate programs, to webinars and other online trainings. It all adds to your base of knowledge.
Ø Learn the language of your new career focus: One of the things that these webinars and certificate programs and even conferences do that is critical, is teach you the vernacular of your new industry. Datta had to learn to “speak smart grid,” for example. Rasha Hasaneen of Ingersoll Rand stressed the importance of this too for success in your career. It’s important on many levels, from technical expertise, to understanding your new peers and leaders, to being accepted into the new industry as a knowledgeable source.
Ø Leverage what you know now: You may not know your new direction yet, but you do know what you know now. Datta figured that she knew telecom and that the energy space seemed to face similar issues, so she figured out how to talk about those similarities to help “sell” her skills.
“I think fundamentally, when you change careers, you’ll have things you’re always going to carry with you,” Datta explained. “You’re always going to be inquisitive, curious, basic intelligence, strength, all of that most of us women have (and, I added, resourcefulness). And then you have to show how your skills, what you know, translates to the new area.”
Ø Network, network, network: “I cannot encourage enough the networking aspect of if you want to change your career.” Datta told me. When she met people through her volunteer work who were doing interesting work in her new interests, she cultivated professional relationships with them, eventually landing consulting gigs.
Ø Identify how you can help your new contacts: Since Datta knew about Singapore, and knew international marketing, for example, she identified projects that might help her meet new people in her new community and area of focus that might help her focus in on a potential employer who might sponsor her residency. This led to her new job at Siemens.
“There are transferable skills,” she emphasized, “Don’t ever forget that. Just because you have not spent 30 years in energy, does not make you less smart about it. The thing is, you are learning every day, and every day you are bringing your own insights to say, ‘maybe you can do this thing slightly differently.’…Having a diversity of skills sets and ideas and creativity and experience from other areas, and passion…it makes such a difference.”
“Never give up. Life is a sine curve. When you’re in the down curve, think of the up curve and remain focused on that,” Datta implored us all, adding:
“Believe in yourself, I say that to every woman. It doesn’t matter how hard your life today is, believe in yourself. You can do it.”