Let’s say you’re bogged down in your present job and you want to learn about a new career—what they offer, how much they pay, and what the advancement tracks are like. While jobs are hard to get right now, there are still things you can do in your spare time to explore other options and be ready to make your move to a new career when the economy turns around.
First off, you should know that there are plenty of career paths open to you, especially if you have a college degree. So how do you learn more about what’s out there, the career that drives your passion, one that makes you eager to get to work every day?
A good place to start is what head hunters call “information interviewing.” Here, you actually go on an interview, not for the purpose of being hired, but to learn more about a possible career path you may be interested in. It’s a good idea to prepare plenty of questions for the interviewer so that you don’t waste a lot of time. Be sure to take copious notes. If you’re lucky, you may actually get to meet some of the working professionals who have been on the job for 5 or 10 years. Here again, have lots of questions ready to ask. In my early job hunting days, I would spend some time in the lunch and break rooms of these companies and talk to the employees to get a more candid view of what they really did every day at work.
Another place to learn about new careers is by attending seminars and conferences conducted by the industry you wish to pursue. Granted some of these can get pretty pricey, so look for ways to get in through your school or through contacts you have developed online. Often just a friendly email to a working professional can get you a pass. Once in, you should absorb as much as you can about the industry by attending the various speaker sessions and presentations. Afterward, talk to the attendees and pick their brains for information about careers.
Job or career fairs can be useful as well. These are usually manned by HR people and other PR people in the company. But sometimes, you’ll find employees who work in the trenches, even recent grads. These are the best people to talk to for they’ll be able to tell you their typical workday, how they got in and what the prospects look like for advancement. If you can, get their contact info and touch base with them later for a more candid view of what careers are like in that particular field.
Once you’ve decided that you’d like to pursue a particular career, shoot for an internship—paid if at all possible. Make sure the internship exposes you to real work in the career and not just busy work or endless grunt work. Talk to as many people as you can, particularly those who have been there for a while, people who have risen up through promotions.
Finding out about the career that inspires you won’t be easy. But it can be done. It just takes a bit of persistence, patience and work.
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