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Career Coaching by Former Fortune 500 Recruiters

How To Research A Career Change

Can you recommend resources for exploring careers and learning about the skills/education needed to be successful in that career?

A lot of the advice I’ve seen about researching a career change focuses on talking to people in the target career.  There is definitely merit to this:  these people know firsthand what the career is like; they can give you ideas on how to get started; they may know the important players and trends in that sector.  In other words, talking to people could shortcut a lot of the heavy lifting you might have to do had you researched this on your own.

But therein lies the reason that I strongly counsel my career changing candidates not to start by talking to people.  It’s a shortcut, and cutting corners invariably means you may miss something.  First of all, people who are doing a job day-to-day may not have a broad perspective on the industry as a whole.  Their recommendations of key players and trends reflect their opinion, not necessarily a wide swath of research.  Secondly, their ideas for how to get started will likely be influenced by how they or people they know got started.  You may have a very different background, and their advice may actually prove counterproductive.  Finally, their knowledge of the career path, growth prospects, and day-to-day again reflects their opinion, not necessarily the typical experience.  Therefore, by relying on what people say, you are ceding control of your information-gathering to the information that they happened to have gathered along the way.

Instead, I would start with secondary research – printed and published material.  The Internet is an obvious place to start:  Google keywords for your target sector; use LinkedIn and other social networks to find groups active in the sector.  Trade and professional associations that serve your target sector are another great resource.  These associations may have publications, employee surveys, salary data and other research material that can give you insight into the players, trends, career path, and other important topics for your search.  The Index of Associations is a reference book that lists professional associations by keyword and geography.  Trade and professional journals are a must-read.  Finally, once you find specific companies or organizations to target, visit their websites, read their press releases and any white papers they may have published, and look at their financials (Hoovers.com for public companies, Guidestar.org for non-profits are two good sources).

A key benefit to doing your own research before you speak to people is that it enables you to have intelligent discussions.  There are so few people who do this type of secondary research that people in your new sector will view you very favorably if you do.  They may become your advocates because you are obviously engaged and willing to work.  You can thus use these firsthand encounters to go beyond the secondary research and learn even more.  This exhaustive, substantive, next-level research is what you need for a successful career change.

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