Linking skills to passion
Tom Murray
Then: Strategy and communications, Magnolia/Best Buy
Now: Consultant, Point B, Microsoft

"I knew it was coming, and it was still a shock. Nobody likes to hear, 'Hey, we don't need you.' " But that was what it sounded like to Best Buy exec Tom Murray in the summer of 2008, when he was let go amid major disruptions in the consumer electronics industry.

Back in 1995, Murray, now 46, started in human resources at Magnolia Audio Video, a high-end consumer electronics retailer in Seattle. He survived and thrived, even through Minneapolis-based Best Buy's purchase of Magnolia in 2000. For years Magnolia remained a standalone unit, and the bigger company meant bigger opportunities for Murray, who eventually became Magnolia's director of strategic development and communications. Yet when the recession and price competition flattened the consumer electronics field, Best Buy absorbed Magnolia as an in-house brand. That left Murray out of work and in need of reinvention.

Like most of us, Murray's first instinct was to panic. "I'm thinking, I'm a single-earner household, and what am I going to do?" But he quickly went from panic to project mode, deciding to analyze his own career the same way he approached new-product market research. "I'm going to rebrand myself," he resolved. "This is about Brand Murray."

His first step was to decide what that brand should stand for. He created a chart listing his passions on the x-axis and his core skills on the y-axis. Then he plotted all his work experiences at the intersecting points, hoping to combine what he was good at with what he loved. He realized that his best experiences involved helping people solve organizational problems using technology.

That realization freed him from feeling tied to a particular industry, a common mistake. "There's a tendency to be paranoid about your job based on the idea that your fortunes are tied to your company," he says. "I learned that I'm not limited by my role at Magnolia or the industry that I was in for 13 years." Consulting, with its multiple tracks, emerged as a fit.

But how to get there? To build his personal brand, Murray networked like crazy on Facebook and LinkedIn, where he made a point of asking almost 50 people to "recommend" him by posting comments on his profile, much as Best Buy consumers did with product reviews. He also decided to update his tech skills by teaching himself Microsoft's business collaboration software, SharePoint. "You can't just sell yourself on the past," he says. "You have to sell yourself on how what you did is going to enable you to bring value in the future."

Project Murray paid off. Within five months he landed a job at Seattle-based consulting firm Point B, whose clients include Microsoft -- where he has spent most of the past two years, helping the cloud-computing team with internal sales processes. It's exactly the kind of work he had hoped for; what's more, he feels better than ever about future career prospects. "I feel my fortunes are now all tied to what I can offer in the market," he says. "I don't know if that's a huge revolutionary concept or not, but living it is."


Last updated June 29 2011: 2:03 PM ET
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