You’ve completed your vision-making and now have your next career firmly in mind, at least as an abstract vision. You’re excited and ready to see what’s out there in your new field – who’s doing the work you want to be doing, which companies get high marks, what your options are. You’re not in job search mode yet; you need to know more before you narrow your focus. How do you do it?
Most career-search guides will tell you to research, research, research, and network, network, network. But questions often remain about how, where and with whom. This article will walk alongside a career searcher we’ll call Lorraine as she learns about a new industry, identifies key issues and people, and begins building a networking base.
A common question when undertaking a career change is where to begin. I recommend beginning at the beginning – with yourself. Start by creating a brief career mission statement that includes the interests and experience that qualify you for your new field; personal strengths you want to use or develop; skills you want to use or develop; and values driving this search.
Here’s Lorraine’s mission statement: “To find a management level position in a company that produces creative products and values the creativity of its employees.” With this baseline to focus your search and return to when you lose focus, you’re ready to begin researching and networking.
Lorraine’s twenty-year career in financial services had worn her down. She longed to leave to pursue some entrepreneurial ideas but couldn’t afford a large financial risk. With help clarifying her goals, she decided to make a lateral move into a new industry that could provide a stepping stone to independence. With no prior knowledge of the new industry – toy design – and no contacts within it, the challenge was to research the industry and targeted companies to locate a potential niche for her wide range of skills and experience and learn enough to effectively position herself to maximize her marketability.
Before beginning her research, Lorraine made a list of questions she needed to answer.
About the new industry
What are its growth projections? What are outstanding issues or challenges confronting it?
What part(s) of the industry attracts you?
What are its downsides?
About working in the industry
What’s the culture?
What do your skills and experience qualify you for?
1. Lorraine began by googling “careers in toy industry”. This gave her an overview, including how the industry is structured, what various industry issues are, education and training options.
2. Next she identified what she needed more information on. Since making creative products was a priority, she tried different search terms to narrow in on creativity.
3. She began exploring websites of companies that interested her.
4. She researched toy design associations and conventions.
Important: Make a list of names of key people as you encounter them. Even though you probably don’t know how to gain access at this point, your list is a place to start.
5. To get an insider’s perspective, she went to vault.com and wetfleet.com. and asked two questions: “What kind of person does well in this industry?” And, “What’s its downside?”
Advice Lorraine would have about researching? Don’t assume there’s a right way to do it. Let curiosity and perseverance be your guides and approach it as a detective game, looking for clues, following leads.
And now for networking.
There was a local company that looked like Lorraine’s dream employer. She had researched the company as far as she could and had the name of the HR director. She had to clarify whether to request a job inquiry meeting, before knowing enough about the company to know how to present her strengths, or to request “advice and knowledge of the industry to further her career transition”. She chose the latter approach. The interview proved disappointing – HR may not have the desired perspective for this type of exploration – but Lorraine now had a template for requesting and conducting similar conversations, and she knew she had to widen her scope.
1. Take care not to confuse a request for career search advice with a job inquiry unless the person you’re talking to crosses that line.
2. Do your homework on the company first. It makes a good impression.
3. Go prepared with several brief questions that can be addressed in 15 minutes. Let the other person extend the time if desired.
4. Try to come away with information (“bread crumbs”) — names, places to look – that will move you forward.
5. Ask permission to use his/her name in making future contacts.
Lorraine’s next step was to begin developing a list of toy industry names to contact. When she had their contact information, she wrote an approach email, introducing herself (using a mutual acquaintance’s name where possible) and requesting guidance on one or two brief questions. Her advice: “Expect a 10-20% return rate and send as many as possible!”
When she read an article in a trade publication or came across a quote, Lorraine contacted the author, expressed appreciation, and asked for guidance. With each contact, virtual or in person, she tried to come away with “bread crumbs”, names to contact (“Can you suggest someone who…?”), places to look for information, companies to investigate (with contact person’s name).
She combined a trip to family with NYC’s International Toy Fair and while there had several informal conversations with company representatives – “the most productive networking I did!” She now had more names and more information with which to narrow her search for specific companies. She was well on her way.
One last piece of advice Lorraine passes along to other career changers: “Be rigorous about designing and maintaining a support structure for yourself! Career change is more challenging than it seems. Keep a list of what you’ve accomplished, and schedule social get-togethers with friends 2-3 times/week.”