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Want to switch career? What you can learn from Michelle Obama’s memoir ‘Becoming’

by Joan Tabb in Uncategorized

Dear Readers,

Did you know that after graduating from Harvard Law School and working in a corporate law firm for several years,

Michelle Obama decided she wanted to make a career transition? I learned all this in her new, excellent memoir, BECOMING.

As more than 50% of lawyers realize within the first several years of practicing law,  Michelle realized that the law was just not for her.

She wanted to  switch fields. But where to go, what to do and who to help? This happened when Michelle Obama, like most of us, was not well connected, did not have wealthy, professional parents to make introductions for her, and had little sense of what she’d like to do next!

So even for a seasoned career and executive coach like me, I was impressed that Michelle Obama had tremendous gumption, courage and confidence….

She decided to create her own introductions! She built, from scratch, her own network of success!

Michelle researched to find the names of leaders in her Chicago community who were involved in what she saw as powerful and impressive organizations. She made a list of the leaders in government, academics, non-profits and more. She started basically COLD, with no personal contacts.  Next, she wrote an impressive letter of introduction, explaining her academic and corporate background and her desire to branch out and learn more about how she could apply her skills in other areas, outside the law.

Interestingly, she got a number of calls. Yes, it helped that she had stellar credentials, an undergraduate degree from impressive Princeton University and the law degree from Harvard, but at the same time, she had no name recognition at that point, and no personal connections to introduce her in.

She did not get responses from all of the people she outreached to. But she did get some. And when she did get the calls she was ready!


Michelle Obama was ready. She was prepared to articulately discuss the skills she had demonstrated, the knowledge she had and she prepared excellent questions so people could see she knew how to think, how to research and was thorough.

What are the takeaways for YOU to use if you are looking to make a career transition?

  1. Do your research. Find out who, in your community, are some of the leaders of organizations or companies you might be interested in.
  2. Develop a thoughtful letter of introduction that explains your credentials, skills and shows you have done some research on them
  3. Ask for an Informational Interview, a 20-30 minutes meeting where you can ask them questions.
  4. Always ask, at the end of the meeting, if there is anyone else they’d suggest you meet with.
  5. Do all the follow up that is suggested.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Michelle Obama started out with NO connections, no introductions at all. She didn’t have a clear path forward. In other words, she was like most of us!  But she used focused intelligence, courage and created an outreach plan to build her own network of influence and opportunity. Interestingly, some of the introductions she made through her personal outreach efforts led to job opportunities years later. So if you’re looking to make a career change, you should consider taking a few tips from the Michelle Obama playbook! Good luck and please, let the world know what you can do…The people who get ahead first need to show up and reach out!                                                                                                              Onward in your career success,  Coach Joan