Often people get it backwards. They arrive at a time in their lives when they need a new job then the first thing they do is look for job openings. It may seem logical but it is not the most beneficial way to go about it. Many of those jobs are not a good match for one reason or another. If they are not a match then they are just distractions.

Instead, flip the process around and begin with yourself. Engage in some pre-job hunt career research. Career research is a process of getting in-depth knowledge of yourself and an idea of where your skills and interests best fit into the career landscape. The purpose of career research is to develop a career strategy and job hunt plan. So the process looks like this instead:

  1. Begin with self-awareness
  2. Study occupations
  3. Then industry trends
  4. Then company culture and job openings.

There are strong advantages to working a job hunt from this angle. First is that you will get a better understanding of your personal brand along the way. You will be able to strategically network with others knowing what you want them to remember about you. You also gain a deep understanding what makes your heart sing and will be able to zoom in on opportunities that are more likely to work optimally for you. Lastly, you will come from a position of passion in job interviews and will be more convincing and so more likely to win the offer.

A good place to start is with this career aptitude test based on the Holland Codes. It’s good, it’s quick, and it’s free. The results are useful and interesting. The same website also has some excellent career research resources. I love the way the information on each job title is presented. It’s easy to read, short and sweet, and particularly relevant. Of course, O*Net is a very good resource for career research as well.

Choosing a career direction is a complex process involving many steps including exploring your interests, skills, values, and personality type, plus lots of time to learn and to strategize a career development plan. After the beginning steps of self-assessment, you choose a few of the career fields that seem to have the most promise and do more intense research.

Researching career fields begins with taking a look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook and the O*Net to learn more about specific career fields. Then, if a specific career field is still being considered, it is time to go out into the field to learn more. In fact, one of the most important aspects of choosing a career path is to get out in the real world and study real people. People who are doing the kind of job that you might want to do someday. One way to do this is through informational interviewing.

Typically, the informational interview process looks like this:

  • find people in the career of interest to talk to
  • schedule a time to meet with them for 30 minutes or so
  • ask questions about their career, and then
  • send a thank you note.

There are several ways to find people for an informational interview. The best method is to use your network of contacts to find people in the line of work that you want to learn more about. Begin asking family members, friends, and other people who they know working in the career. For example, you might approach your aunt and ask her, “Who do you know who works as a civil engineer?” Once a member of your network knows someone to refer you to, ask for that person’s name and phone number. You will be surprised how many people your contacts know and how easy it is to find people to talk to about all kinds of careers.

Next call the new contact. Give your name and how you know about them. Tell them that you are interested in learning more about their career field and that you were hoping they could help. Ask if you can schedule a time to speak with them for 30 minutes because you would like to ask them how they got into the field and about their recommendations for people who are considering entering the profession.

Following are some questions typically asked in an informational interview. Remember you most likely will not be able to ask them all since you want to keep the interview to only 30 minutes. Be sure to take a pen and paper for quick notes and recommendations and to assist you with writing a thank you note the following day. Be sure to note the correct spelling of their name and their address by asking them the information and writing it down in your notes or checking their business card.

SAMPLE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

  • How did you develop your career path?
  • How did you get into this job?
  • What are your duties as a ____?
  • How long have you been in this position?
  • What do you like best about this career?
  • What do you like least about this career?
  • What would you do differently if you were starting over in this field?
  • What are the educational requirements of this field?
  • What is the typical salary range for this career field?
  • Can you recommend some professional associations for this career field?
  • What do you read to stay up-to-date in the field?
  • What further education do you participate in?
  • What are the advancement opportunities in this field?
  • What do you see as the future of this career field?
  • What is your career goal for the future?
  • What is happening in this industry?
  • What kinds of companies make up this industry?
  • Where has growth taken place in this field recently?
  • Who are your customers or clients?
  • How do you promote your products and/or services?
  • Who are some of your competitors?
  • What has helped to make companies successful in this industry?
  • What recommendations do you have for a person interested in this field?
  • Do you know others I should speak to about this career field?