Making a Career Change: Part 2

(This post is part of a series. If you haven’t read the first post on making a career change, check that one out!)

Now that you have an idea of what your values are and what’s important to you in a new career, let’s start talking about turning that information into an action plan.

If you don’t already know what you want to do, that’s okay. Remember, April had no idea what she wanted to do. She just knows she wants her new job to be close by, not too stressful, use her brain, and allow her to interact with other people. You don’t have to know what you want; you just need a place to start.

Brainstorm from Your Values

Go through the values you identified in our previous exercise and start to brainstorm matching ideas. For example, in April’s example, she wanted a job with a short commute. She needs to identify companies within an acceptable radius from her house. This sounds complicated until you realize that lets you enter in your zip code and choose a filter distance! So, for example, you can tell Indeed that you live in the 91321 zip code and you only want jobs 5 miles away from that location.

This is a super-handy way to get started on your brainstorm. Although the jobs listed might not be exactly what you’re looking for, you might discover businesses you didn’t know about but are interested in. Even if the job they’ve posted isn’t for you, you can always pitch an idea for a job! So getting a handle on what’s around you (if that’s a criterion for you) is very useful.

Brainstorming Companies Can Be a Faster Track to Success

As you may have noticed, at this point we’re not even looking at specific jobs. We’re looking at companies. A lot of career changers make the mistake of trying to pinpoint a new career by brainstorming job ideas. But unless you are crystal clear about your objectives (I have one client who is positive she wants to transition into interior design) then starting with jobs is often a poor choice. Individual jobs have wildly different daily realities.

For example, let’s say you decided you wanted to be a web designer. That’s very specific–and that works for some people. But if it’s a field you don’t know about, you might not realize how varied these roles can be. Some web designers work onsite, some at agencies, some design internal sites, some do both coding and interface design, some work from home, some tackle localization…it’s an exhausting list. And unless you already know a lot about the industry it can be overwhelming.

But when you look at companies instead of individual jobs, you have a more stable set of variables to work with. This isn’t always the case, as within a company, job privileges can vary. But you’ll know where the job is located, what the benefits package is, what the culture is like, their role within the community, etc. If I know, for example, that I want to work at the local florist shop, that gives me a much more concrete idea of what my life will be like than if I say I want to be a store manager. Both can be true! But starting your search with a company instead of a job gives you the ability to really hone in on what’s important to you.

Research Companies

Once you have a handful of companies in mind, it’s time to do your research. Go to their Career or Job Opening pages and browse. What’s available? Does it look like work you’re interested in? If job titles of job descriptions catch your eye, jot down the things you liked. Were you intrigued by the notion of work from home? Did you like the idea of 50% travel? Were you intrigued by the notion of catered lunches? This is another step in figuring out what’s important to you versus what is just icing on the cake.

Keeping a list of eye-catching phrases can help you further hone your search. Learning which companies are most compatible with your perfect day is often an easier route to go than figuring out a specific career.

Another tactic you may want to employ is asking your friends and colleagues what they think would be a good fit for you. Asking questions like, “Based on what you know about me, what kind of career do you think would make me most happy?” Don’t try to do this over social media. The best way to do this is to gather a small group of friends for an in-person discussion. A group of 5 or fewer people works best. Invite them over for lunch or dinner, and then ask each person the following questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What do I do well that you can’t do well?
  • What kind of career can you see me flourishing in? Why?

You can do this activity one on one, but in a group setting, your friends can bounce ideas off each other. It’s a very useful activity and may give you insights you hadn’t considered before. Understanding what other people see in you and how they view your abilities can give you great insights on future career choices.

Brainstorm Specific Careers

However, let’s say you already have a list of careers that interest you. The next thing you need to do is learn more about them. And my favorite way of doing this is through informational interviews.

Informational interviews are performed one on one. The idea is to pick someone’s brain and find out everything there is to know about a certain career. So let’s say you were interested in interior design. You might meet with an interior designer and ask questions like:

  • What is a typical workday like? (It’s often very different than what you think! Often, seemingly glamorous jobs involve a lot of paperwork and tedious research before the fun begins)
  • How do you find clients?
  • What is the average industry pay rate?
  • What is difficult about this job?
  • What do you love about this job?
  • How does this job live up to your expectations?

Of course, the hardest part about informational interviews is finding someone to do them! This is another time where LinkedIn comes in handy. Search for local groups (not individuals) such as MeetUps where you can network with people in your field of interest. Only after you meet them in person should you ask for an informational interview.

Next week, I’ll share some stories of other people who have made successful career changes (including me!) with my top advice for being successful.