Dear New Shrink,

I am interested in making a career change but feel totally lost in how to figure out whether the industry will really offer me what I’m looking for. I have read several books about making a career change and started researching the industries that appeal most to me. What else can I do to learn about these fields?

Signed,

Ready for Change

Dear Ready,

Changing careers is a major decision and one that should only be made after careful research and consideration. While there are lots of ways to gather new information, I would encourage you to start with a technique called “informational interviewing.”

An Informational Interview is a brief meeting with someone who is in a career or industry that you are considering. It is a chance to get first-hand information and advice that is specific to your interests and concerns. In addition to gaining knowledge about the field, you will meet professionals and begin to establish a network of contacts. An Informational Interview is one of the most valuable methods to learn about a career or industry as you determine your future career direction. Meeting with a professional in your field of interest allows you to ask the questions that are specific to your interests, skills, and circumstances. Though it may seem intimidating, I promise you that it is worth the effort.

Although you can research online or read books about a particular industry, informational interviews are much more personal than written material, which often takes a general “one size fits all” approach. You control the information you gather through a personal interview by creating your own list of questions specific to your interests, values, and skills. If possible, try to schedule an in-person meeting so that you can actually visualize the workspace and get a sense of what it would feel like for you to work in that environment. However, connecting with a professional via phone or e-mail is equally valuable and can be a great method of gathering further details.

So, now you know the significance of the informational interview, let’s talk about how to find someone to talk to. Once you have decided which occupations you would like to know more about, start asking people you already know for referrals: family, friends, teachers, co-workers, classmates or reach out to your alumni and professional associations. You can also contact businesses and organizations that hire the types of professionals you hope to speak with. You can be introduced by a mutual acquaintance, or contact the interviewee directly by phone, mail, or e-mail. Let them know how you learned about them and that you are interested in career information, not a job.

Before speaking with the professional, make sure to do your research. Research the company, revise your resume (you never know when you will need it next), and compile a list of questions. Learn as much as you can about the career you are interested in and the company that professional works for. All this will help you formulate better questions. LinkedIn can be a good resource to learn more about the professional’s work history and background.

Next, prepare a list of questions before your informational interview to make the most of your time. Consider asking questions about the specific job such as “What kinds of decisions do you make?” or “How do you spend a typical day/week?” You might also ask about the industry itself and the professional’s expertise in this area, questions like “What trends and developments do you see affecting career opportunities?” will help you navigate the industry. Consider other elements that are important in your career decision and incorporate those into your discussion. Questions about work/life balance, hours, advancement opportunities and work environment might be helpful in your planning. Finally, use this time to find out what resources you should explore to learn more. Ask for specific advice about the books or websites you should review. You can also ask about the people they think you should talk to in order to make an informed decision.

After the interview, be sure to follow-up with the professional and thank them for their time. Also be sure to thank the other individuals who were instrumental in introducing you to this new contact. Take time to reflect on the information you have gathered and acknowledge that making a major career decision will take time.

KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a professional career counselor who holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!

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