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Exploring Career Options and Market Realities

By Kit Harrington Hayes

Once you have completed your self-assessment, the next phase of transition is exploring possibilities for your future. This is a very important step, and one you should keep separate from your job search. By doing so, you are allowing yourself to gather information, speak with people and “try on” alternatives without having to present yourself as a candidate (an act that, at this stage, can make you feel vulnerable, and unqualified because it’s work you’ve never done). You will find that it is fairly easy to gain access to people for informational meetings when you say something like the following:

(Sample phone script)
“Good morning, Phyllis. Jack Jones gave me your contact information. My name is Tim Goddard. I’ve been in corporate finance and accounting for 10+ years with high success but low job satisfaction. I find myself at a career crossroads. I’m interested in moving into a customer-facing position in the financial services industry. This would be a major leap so I want to make sure it’s the right move. Would you be willing to share with me your experience of servicing clients and building a book of business at MetLife? I have in mind meeting next week for 30 minutes over coffee.”

But wait! Isn’t the entire financial services industry one big rubble heap? Why would anyone turn their sights on that field in these terrible times? And speaking of the market place, isn’t the entire market place flat as a pancake and predicted to stay that way for eons?

Understandable questions to ask; but, reasonable inferences? No. Historically, the market goes through tremendous fluctuations. Since the early 1990s when globalization dramatically increased, market fluctuations have been more frequent and dramatic. The good news is that bad markets turn around. Career decisions should be based on long term projections rather than current market realities. Yes, this requires a leap of faith!

Choosing Occupations to Explore

So, take a deep breath. Let’s circle back and talk about how you identify occupations to explore. One excellent source for new career options is results of the self-assessments you’ve completed. The Strong Interest Inventory, Campbell Interest and Skill Survey and Myers Briggs Type Indicator all have career satisfaction listings with the interpretive material. Since there are multiple reports to choose from, be sure your career counselor knows that you want the report with the most comprehensive career information related to your results.

There are also numerous career guide books based on the theories underlying these instruments that can be enlightening. Examples include Do What You Are by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger (based on the MBTI) and Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D (Based on the Strengths Finder2.0).

Other Interests/Pulls

You should also pay attention to your own inner compass which may be pulling you in a new direction. You may find yourself enjoying certain activities that suggest a new work direction, or you may realize that several people have given you feedback such as “You should be in sales – you’re a natural!” or “You are so patient and clear in giving instructions – you should be a teacher.”

While you’re in the throes of exploring, initiate conversations with friends, family, even new acquaintances about their careers, what their work involves, what they like and don’t like, how they got into it and where they see it taking them. It can be illuminating to hear a wide range of stories.

Keep track of all ideas that have any traction with you. Let’s say you compile a list of 10 to 15 possibilities. The next step is to block off a couple of hours for reading on line. Go to www.bls.gov/OCO and read about these occupations. You’ll find descriptions of the positions plus information about training and qualifications, advancement, and compensation (ignore these figures for now as there are so many factors that impact them). You’ll also find sources of further information and suggestions of related occupations.

Narrowing In

Work your list. Cross off choices that you want to eliminate because of unappealing realities you’ve discovered. For example, a client of mine was interested in helping people and drawn to the field of healthcare. She was able to eliminate several options within health care when she saw photos in the Occupational Outlook Handbook of a physical therapist manipulating a patient’s leg and a nurse giving an injection – she realized that she didn’t want to lay hands on people. There were plenty of other choices for her to consider such as nutritionist, care manager and patient advocate.

More Research

When you have a short list of 3 or 4 appealing options, do more in depth research on these occupations, starting with library and internet sources. There are great books on careers in specific fields. In addition, there are professional and trade associations for just about any occupation you can name and they are ideal sources for deepening your understanding. Look at their publications, including those created to attract people to the profession and those produced to keep the professionals in the field up-to-date.

Look at the article titles in the journals for the professionals. If you find your interest piqued, where you want to find a comfortable chair and sit down to read all the articles, you have tapped into something very important. This compelling urge to know more, to read “as though” this was your occupation, you may have tapped into your calling. On the other hand, if the articles leave you cold, you probably aren’t going to want to live and breathe this profession for the next 10 or more years. Keep looking.

Informational Interviewing

Remember our opening scenario with Tim calling Phyllis to request an informational interview? Who could turn down such a well articulated request?

In order to pull this off Tim had to:

  • Do some background reading on the financial services industry.
  • Identify some specific lines of business (banking, insurance, investments) and roles that sound appealing.
  • Read job descriptions for these roles.
    (The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great place to start; current job postings are another avenue.)
  • Research and identify financial services companies in his geographical area.
  • Identify a friend who has contacts in the industry and can get an introduction.

Once Tim has secured his appointment with Jack, he must:

  • Read the latest issues of local business publications (i.e. Boston Business Journal, and regional equivalents) to learn about the current market trends and projections and specific business activities that could impact his decision.
  • Read up on Jack’s firm.
  • Create a list of questions to ask Jack.
  • Run his meeting with Jack, asking the questions he prepared and others that arise in conversation.
  • Ask Jack for introductions to others in the industry who could help further his knowledge of the industry.
  • Send a gracious “thank you” email the next day.
  • Follow up with Jack in a few weeks with an update on his progress toward a decision and his next steps.

Making a Choice

You may be thinking that this is an arduous process. You’re right. As you get rolling, you’ll find that there’s a nice mix of researching, which can feel isolating, and meeting with people, which is social, providing human contact and a reality check. It may be tempting to short circuit the process and simply decide to apply for jobs you’ve never done before and see what happens.

Most likely you won’t be invited to interview. And, if you are invited in, you aren’t going to make a good impression without having knowledge of the field, the industry and the position. So you’ll waste the interviewer’s time and your own. Think of this process as an investment in your future. If you make a good decision now, you can look forward to years of waking in the morning and feeling excited about your work day. I’ve had clients call me following career transitions to report that they love their new jobs, can’t wait to get to work, and have never been happier.

All of this background work prepares you to build your credibility for a new career. It really works. The process will help you to “try on” the new occupation, learn about the needs and challenges of the field, understand the transferability of your skills to this new arena, gain knowledge to apply to the interviewing process and build a network of people who will ultimately champion your candidacy when you arrive at the job search. Remember, to this point, you have been exploring options, and getting warmer. When you have identified a career choice that is compelling you forward, it is time to make a decision.