Many pieces of advice for researching a career change emphasize talking to people in the target field. This has a lot of merit: these people have firsthand experience with the career; they can give you advice on how to get started, and they may be familiar with key players and developments in that industry. As a result, talking to people could save you a lot of the legwork you’d have to do if you did your own research.
However, this is not the place to begin. It’s a shortcut, and taking shortcuts almost always means missing something. For starters, people who work in a job on a daily basis may not have a broad view of the industry as a whole. Their suggestions for key players and developments are based on their own opinions and experience, not necessarily a broad range of analysis. Second, how they or people they meet got started will most likely affect their ideas about how to get started.
You will probably come from a completely different background, and their advice may be counterproductive. In addition, their understanding of the career path, growth opportunities, and day-to-day reflect their perspective, not necessarily traditional experience. By depending on what others think, you’re handing over ownership of your data collection to whatever knowledge they happen to have collected along the way.
Instead, start with books and papers. The obvious place to start is the Internet: Use Google to find keywords for your target industry, and LinkedIn and other social media sites to find groups that are interested in the field. Another excellent resource are trade and technical organizations that represent the target industry. These organizations may have reports, employee surveys, compensation data, and other research materials that can provide you with information about the players, patterns, career paths, and other topics relevant to your quest. The Encyclopedia of Associations is a reference book that organizes professional organizations by keyword and place. A must-read are trade and technical journals.
Eventually, once you’ve identified particular businesses or organizations to target, go to their websites, read their press releases and white papers, and examine their financial statements (Hoovers.com for public companies, Guidestar.org for non-profits are two sources).
One of the most important advantages of doing your own study before speaking with others is that it allows you to have intelligent discussions. Since this form of secondary research is so uncommon, people in your new industry will think highly of you if you do it. That’s because you appear clearly committed and eager to work. By itself, this may become your supporters. As a result, use these firsthand experiences to supplement your secondary research of informational interviews and learn even more. This in-depth, next-level research is just what you need to do to make a good career shift.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2100 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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