For many people, New Year is the time to renew the resolution made long ago, to do something about their career. You may be one of those people. You may have renewed the resolution many times. And yet you are still working in the same old career, one that you don’t enjoy and aren’t quite sure how you ever got into it in the first place. Will this be the year when you finally get round to looking for a new career?
There are two ways of finding a better career. One is a reactive approach, the other is proactive.
In a reactive search for a new career you look at every job advert you possibly can, pick out those opportunities that you think you might enjoy and in which you have some chance of being offered a job, and you fire off your applications. In other words, you react to whatever opportunities come your way. You might get lucky. But there is no guarantee that the job you end up with will be any more satisfying than the one you are trying to get away from.
In a proactive search you take a step back to have a good look at your skills, experience, interests and anything else you think might impact on your career. You conduct in-depth conversations with friends, partners or even a career professional, trying to work out carefully which career will be right for you, and then, when you have made a decision, you concentrate your job search in that area. If you do this this systematically and thoroughly you stand a better chance of finding a new, more satisfying career. But it is only a chance; there is still a possibility that your new career may be little better than your old one.
The missing ingredient in both these approaches is the critical one of research. Without good research you can never know whether you are making the right choice or not.
Career research operates on many levels. At its broadest, you explore both job titles and sectors. If you are moving into a new industry, or if you are hoping to do a completely different job from your current experience, it’s essential to really understand what the change might involve. You need to look at the tasks you might be expected to do, the knowledge you will required to have, the likely shape of your working day, the sort of people you will be working with, the style of work you will be expected to conform to, the sort of culture you are likely to be working in, the reputation of the sector and its prospects.
You also need to consider whether the job is right for you on a personal level. Will the outcomes of your work allow you to feel you are doing something worthwhile, will this new career meet your needs for personal growth, and will it take you where you want to go in the long run?
It’s also important to research at the company level. The same job can be fantastic in one company and a nightmare in another. So your research needs to include a look at the companies in the sector, to understand how they function, and what their culture is.
Start your career research by reading as much as you can about the new career you are considering. You can find information on the websites of industry associations and professional bodies. The Trade Association Forum www.taforum.org, and TotalProfessions.com, www.totalprofessions.com/profession-finder, will help you to identify these. You can also download industry guides from the British Library www.bl.uk/bipc/dbandpubs/index.html. Try to draw up a list of all the significant companies in the sector you are considering and visit their websites. Join LinkedIn or Facebook groups that revolve around the company or its work.
Do financial research as well. Use a business information provider like Alert Data, www.alertdata.co.uk, Fame www.fame.bvdinfo.com or Duedil, www.dudedil.com to investigate the health and financial prospects of the companies you are looking it. There’s little point making a career change into a company that is failing.
But the most important research you can do is to seek information from people who have direct experience of the job or company you are looking at. Wherever possible try to speak to people who work at the jobs you are considering moving into, or in the companies you are investigating. If you can’t speak to them, connect with them online and start conversations with them that way.
Find out as much as you can about the levels of job satisfaction in these places, try to discover what your day to day activities will be, what sort of environment you are likely to be working in and of course, what you will need to demonstrate to the employer to stand a good chance of getting a job. If at all practical, try to spend a few days shadowing someone who does one of the jobs you are considering; this is far and away the best way of really finding out what a job is like.
Good research is critical to making the right career choices. It is the only way you can ever really find out what a new career may involve. If you don’t do your research you will be making an uninformed decision and you run the risk of ending up in a job just as unsatisfactory as the one you are in now. Take time to do your research thoroughly. It’s worth it.