I have included career building on this site because I think one of the most difficult things we do in this world is deciding upon a career path. Sometimes it is very frightening not only to select a career path but in fact to change careers.
Quite often, we are asked at a very early age to make choices that may well impact our future opportunities - which hardly seems fair. How did you know that taking high school math was that important? So let’s start with a couple of key points to get us started.
This is a huge myth and yet one that many people stumble over. I work with a lot of young professionals who don't like their profession! However, many of these people really, really struggle with shifting from what they are currently doing to something that they want to do. It isn't hard to see why.
Many of these people have graduated as Engineers, Accountants, Doctors, Lawyers and what not and have spent a lot of time, money and effort in getting a degree (or two!) in support of their career aspirations. In many cases, these professions require a practical experience component as well before they are granted a license to practice. This can be another two to five year process.
It is hard to go through all of this and then reach the conclusion that you are unhappy with your career choice! The result is that many carry on in their careers in spite of knowing that it isn't for them - and this is a real tragedy as far as I am concerned.
Your past should not define your future. Your future should define your present. You can not change the past and so living to the past can not provide you with the future you want. But Gord, how can I throw away all that effort, blood, sweat and tears? How can I just give up on all that I have invested to get here?
Quite simply - How can you not if you know you are not on a path to happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment?
Secondly - You are not throwing anything away! Here is why.
A lot of people think that changing careers is about throwing away their education. Huh? Does this mean you didn't get educated? Does this mean you have not learned anything? Does this mean you didn't have those experiences? Come on! You are not throwing anything away because you are educated, you have had that experience and the skills, knowledge and experience you do have will continue to support you in your "next" career if you let it.
The point of going to college or university is to learn - not to get a degree or a diploma. So, even if you never directly use the knowledge you have obtained during your educational process, it doesn't mean it is wasted. It has shaped you, influenced you and caused you to see and appreciate things that were not available to you prior to that experience.
A lot of people don't appreciate this but almost any leader doing a great job will tell you that it is a very different role than anything they have done previously. Think about this for a second. Most great leaders will focus on leadership and developing their leadership skills, usually well after they have had a career in accounting, engineering, law or what ever. Do they feel that they have "thrown" away their education just because they are not using it any more? I doubt it.
I highlight this example because I have seen many people make the transition from what they have been doing to what they want to do and it has transformed their life! I am not kidding. This is never about throwing away your past. It is about building on it and embracing the idea that it is your ultimate potential that defines your future - not yesterday! Now let's focus on creating the career you want to have!
If you have explored this website at all, you have undoubtedly come across the section on figuring out who you are and what you want. If not, I recommend you start there by clicking here. Once you have figured out the kind of environment you are looking for, what sort of strengths, skills, talents and interests you want to be able to leverage and where your growth and learning opportunities are - then it is time to open our minds to the possibilities of careers. Wait - don't head to the "help wanted ads" just yet! This is where we have fun in exploring what is possible for you.
The first step is to open our mind to possibilities by exploring some possible roles that you may never have considered. A great way of doing this is to look at a list of careers that includes their salary expectations, education requirements and other role elements. Keep in mind - you are not picking one at this point but rather just exploring the territory or landscape for ideas. Ideally, you will spend some time looking at this and remarking to yourself, "I didn't know that people did this..." or "I didn't know that you could get paid for doing that...". These are good signs that you are learning something about possibilities.
the point of reviewing these various career options is to inspire you
to think about options, opportunities and careers that you may not even
have known existed!
Ideally after reviewing this site, you will have made a list of possible careers based on how you felt when you were reading about them. You should feel excited or a bit energized or really curious. Once you have a list of say five or six options, it is time to move on to the next step in the process.
Now remember - you are not looking for a job yet! You are looking for information about jobs and the best way of doing that is to conduct some informational interviews.
So what is an informational interview? An informational interview is a one on one in person or over the phone chat with someone currently performing a role that interests you. In essence, you are interviewing someone about their job. Here is a step by step process.
Starting with your list of five or six professions or careers of interest, we now have to find someone to interview about their job. There are a number of ways of approaching this of course and the most simple and direct approach is to ask around. You can ask your friends, family, neighbors, mail man - it doesn't really matter and what you are going to ask them is: "I am interested in learning more about becoming a book keeper and I was wondering if you knew of anyone doing that work or if you know of someone who knows of someone doing that work."
Chances are, it won't take you very long to get a few names and numbers of people you can talk to.
Another great vehicle for this sort of thing is the social media site LinkedIN. I highly recommend people with an interest in career development join LinkedIN because it can connect you with a huge community of professionals, not just through your own connections but other people's as well. In addition you can ask questions of the LinkedIN community and I have no doubt, you will have names and numbers of people doing the kind of work that you are interested in within a few seconds of asking the question!
By the way, LinkedIN also has a job database and a company search function which are also valuable tools for people looking for work or a change in careers.
So how do we set up an informational interview?
The first thing we want to do is have one or two names of people who are working in the career or role of interest. A bit of research should enable you to find the individual's phone number. If you don't know the individual's phone number but you do know his or her name and where they work - then you can often get what you are looking for by phoning the company's general number or reception. In this case, you either get directly transferred, e.g. "Hello and good morning. This is Gord Aker calling. Would you please connect me with Mr. Peabody in accounting? Thanks." Quite often this will get you Mr. Peabody unless he is an executive in which case, you may be asked additional questions.
When you get in touch with the individual you wish to speak to, ask for the opportunity to speak with him for no more than 15-20 minutes! This is really important. If you ask for half an hour, he will be too busy. Most people seem to think that 15-20 minutes is okay. Ideally, this guy will be in your vicinity so you can meet him and buy him a coffee. Again - the timing here is critical. You can not ask for more than 20mins or they will in all likelihood refuse.
If they refuse to meet you face to face, then ask for a telephone appointment. Quite often, they will respond with - "Well what do you want to talk about?" in which case ta-da you have your opportunity! Other times, they will ask you to call back at a certain time which is just as good if not better because now you both will know the time frame and be better prepared.
When asked what this is all about, you DO NOT answer with, "I am looking for a job." NO YOU ARE NOT. You are looking for information only. This is also a key point. If you are looking for a job, you will be told that they have no openings right now and that will be the end of the conversation.
So what is your hook? Tell them you are doing research on a number of different career options or that you are writing a web page or "white paper" on career options and wanted to speak with someone in a position of knowledge about a specific role or career.
This approach usually lowers the threat and most people are interested and willing to help. Keep in mind that you shouldn't lie to them. Ideally - you will prepare some notes on the career options that you are investigating and it is quite possible that you will ultimately share these with other people. I would never advocate lying because firstly, it is dishonest and secondly, it will cause you to be nervous and appear to lack confidence. The truth is, you are doing research pure and simple.
It is also important to mind the time. This shows your integrity and professionalism so once your 15-20 minutes is up, make sure you indicate this. Chances are if you have been having a good conversation, you will get a few more minutes of their time. You can not lose by being up front, forthright and living up to your request for 15-20 minutes.
So what do you ask in an informational interview? Click here for a script to get you started.
I think informational interviewing is an awesome way of not only networking and connecting with people but also to help you discover a career that you are passionate about.
Another approach is to take some psychological tests. I think these can be beneficial for people if they approach them from the right perspective. Too often people approach these tests as if they are going to provide them with the answer. I have rarely seen this to be the case. Quite often, the test results show possibilities and the job seeker sees them as indefinite or incorrect which leads to frustration.
So career tests can be useful if the intention is to open up your mind to possibilities but they are less so if you are looking for "the answer".
One of the best known and most widely used psychological test is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator MBTI. This "test" when debriefed properly sorts you into one of sixteen possible personality types according to a theory developed over 50 years ago by a psychologist, Carl Jung. These personality types indicate your preference on four dichotomies, namely:
It is not hard to imagine how this sort of information about your preferences would have a link to career choice however - the MBTI does not indicate potential, capability, competence or interests. It only identifies possible careers based on a statistical analysis of "Type" in various careers. Again - I think it is a useful tool for considering ideas that you may not have considered before. I don't see it as providing a lot of "answers" per se.
My prefered test these days is the Core Values Index or CVI developed by Taylor Protocols. It helps people understand what fuels their ideal contribution, be it action, connection, problems solving or knowledge. There is a basic form of the test available for free here. It provides the starting point but to be honest, a debrief is required for you to get the full value. Please contact me for more information.
Once you have done some informational interviews and possibly completed a psychological test of some sort - you should start to develop at least a few ideas about the kind of career you would like to pursue. A big part of making this process work is keeping an open mind. Quite often our mind makes up all sort of stories about what is and isn't possible.
For example, you may have an interest in mountain hiking but your brain will tell you that you can't make any money being a mountain guide. Just a minute! Who said anything about becoming a mountain guide? Our brains just naturally connect the dots and exclude all other possibilities from consideration. If you like to hike in the mountains, what can you do to link your other career interests to this one? Here are some of the things I have seen:
I could go on, but you get the point. Looking for the overlap of interests, abilities, skills and talents usually ends up with people getting creative about developing a career they love. Then it is all about making it happen!
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