Fun truth: People generally like to tell you something you may not know. They love to give advice and tell you what they know. As a job seeker, take advantage of this activity by doing just that – tapping the brains of live human beings. You’ll not only find out what they know, but you can prove or disprove what you discovered and find out about what you didn’t learn from your research so far. People will also be able to tell you the type of information only someone close to the field would know, which will help you look at reality – something you need to do quite closely in the process of your job-search due diligence and informational conversations.
Confronting reality is important, and the best way to do it is to talk to people. Yet, so many in career transition do not do it.
Who to talk to
Talk to two categories of people:
1. People you already know who could either:
a. Give you input on your areas of interest, or
b. Refer you to someone to get input on your areas of interest.
If the people you know don’t work directly in the area you’re interested in, they should have knowledge of it. They could have once worked in this area or dabbled in it. If, for instance, you’re interested in learning more about nonprofit jobs, find someone who worked for an association, nonprofit, community organization, etc. Maybe they’re on the board of a service club or organization like United Way. They could work for a company that uses grants or has a footprint in community affairs.
Look around at who you know from various parts of your life – relatives, friends, fellow committee members, or people who attend your place of worship.
Who do you know who might have ties to or knowledge of your areas of interest? Think about professionals you deal with – accountants, attorneys, physicians, business people, tradespeople, and who they might know and refer you to. Don’t assume they don’t know anyone who can help you. They all have friends, neighbors, and relatives too.
The best way to approach your acquaintances is to share your objective and ask if they’ll give you input or refer you to people who can.
2. Specific people or types of people you want to talk to but don’t know:
They can include folks you have read about in your research, learned of or know of in some other way. For example, if you’re interested in selling medical devices, the person might be a local authority in the field or someone quoted in an article. They might have written a book about the area you’re interested in.
You can approach these people with phone calls, letters, or emails explaining your objective and asking for a half hour of their time. You could also ask people in the first group if they know this person and ask to be referred.
When my client, Anne, a mechanical engineer from an automotive manufacturing environment, got to this part of the process, she didn’t have a specific person she wanted to talk to. But she did have a type in mind: people who work in the field of materials in the biotechnology industry. She found them by attending a meeting of the local chapter of industrial designers.
How to kick off the conversation
When Anne reached the point of talking to people, she started by delivering a 30-second introduction that included key points of her objective. She told people:
“I’m exploring how to capitalize on my mechanical engineering background and love for healthcare, specifically to apply innovative technology to health-related products. I’ve spent 15 years honing my strengths. These are the ability to research and analyze; the design and usability of new products; my talent for connecting with engineers, designers, and customers; and my success in solving functionality issues. One area that I’m looking at is materials engineering in biotechnology. I’m exploring both hands-on design or R&D; and liaison roles between the designers and clients.”
You also want to be able to elaborate on your background.
What to ask
Ask yourself, “What do I need to know to be able to assess if I match up to this type of career?” Some questions you might ask people in your conversations might include:
- What does it take to get into this field or profession? Or company?
- What social, economic, political, environmental, cultural, and technological forces influence in this area?
- What you like about it? What do you dislike about it?
- What’s an ideal background?
- What’s a typical day like?
- What education do you need?
- How much does experience count?
- Can you see someone like me fitting in? If so, where?
- What obstacles might I run into? How could I overcome them?
In their book, Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right, authors Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan advised businesses on how to succeed. They said the greatest damage to business is the failure to confront reality. They wrote, “Mostly, you need to converse.” This applies to the job seeker. Talk to people proactively. Ask questions. Listen. And keep an open mind to explore the answers and how they apply to your search.
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