I’m enjoying reading How Can I Change Careers? and I have a question. How do I know what jobs I want? A big part of your book is finding someone who already is doing the job you aspire to. But my knowledge is imperfect and I know I don’t know all the jobs people are already doing. How do I grow my awareness? Wishing you all the best for 2024!

Nick’s Reply

what jobs I wantHappy New Year to you, too! Thanks for purchasing How Can I Change Careers? I’m sure you’ve already read the section titled “The Library Vacation.” That’s a good plan for doing some blue-sky exploration to quickly identify a group of jobs you’re motivated to learn more about. But improving your awareness of jobs will always require talking to people!

How to explore jobs you want

Stated simply, my advice about how to learn about jobs you may be interested in is to go hang out with people who do the work you might want to do. Since you’re exploring, draw a circle big enough to encompass whatever range of work you’re considering. These questions should get you started.

  1. What industry are we talking about?
  2. Product type (or service type) you’d like to be involved with?
  3. Or is it some kind of technology you’re most interested in?
  4. A geographical preference?
  5. A bunch of specific companies that excite you? (Don’t worry whether they’re advertising open jobs. There are other ways for Getting in The Door.)
  6. A particular discipline? (Manufacturing, software development, finance, operations…)

Go where those workers hang out

Your answers to any of those questions can point you to places where people congregate to talk shop – that is, about their work, This may include bricks-and-mortar conferences, online gatherings, education programs, professional journals that include virtual or actual discussion forums, or even local hangouts (bars, restaurants, sports clubs) where such people get together. Start with one. Go there. Hang out. Participate. Figure out who the movers and shakers and opinion makers are – ask them well-thought-out questions about their work.

Talk shop

Here are some suggested questions, but take time to formulate some good ones of your own.

  • What led you to work at your company?
  • What are the biggest challenges you/your company/your industry face?
  • What are you reading lately that influences your work?
  • Can you recommend someone I should I talk to, to learn more?
  • What advice or insight could you share with someone like me who’s interested in this industry/company/line of work?

Why am I suggesting this approach? Because I use similar questions to start conversations with people I need to get to know. And because people love to talk about their work and they love to talk about themselves. Make it easy for them — ask good (but not presumptuous or prying!) questions about their work. Then keep silent and listen.

Make new friends and more friends

The point is not to get an interview or to give them your resume. (That comes later.) It’s to make friends and to learn about their experience and views on their field of work, their specific jobs, their employer and their professional community.

The actual objective is to get referred to others in the field who can tell you more. As your web of new contacts grows, you will find your discussions start to narrow down to specific jobs and opportunities. This takes time, but there’s no magic dust to make it all happen quickly. The upside is, you can make a lot of new friends!

Friends refer friends for jobs

This article might give you some more ideas:

You can’t CLICK to change careers

And here’s a brief lesson you can listen to about changing careers:

How can I change careers? (audio)

In a nutshell, to meet people who do the jobs you aspire to, learn where they hang out with their peers to discuss their work. Then go there. At first, listen, then participate. Never, ever, ever lead with “I’m looking for a job!”  Just start by making some new friends and talking shop. (Please refer to “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” in your copy of How Can I Change Careers?)

How do you find people who can educate you about jobs you’re interested in?

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  1. I don’t know about anyone else here, but I am on my fifth pivot/sixth career since leaving high school.

    You just never know what life and the future will bring.

  2. I did a 180. Left corporate life at 55 for a hands on vocation. Handyman. Never been happier. Realized through self-reflection that I was always good with tools and can figure out how to fix and solve problems. Love helping other people make their house a home. Love learning new ways of doing things and the vast array of challenging projects. Income was sparse at first but worked to make a profit and learned to live on less. Life’s good.

  3. Absolutely rock-solid advice.

    In 1978 I was taught a networking method based on these principles, and can attest to their effectiveness … this article could easily be one of the most important you will read when it comes to your career development and the subsequent job searching.

    A couple of adds if I may:

    Do not take a resume with you to a networking or informational meeting (doing so makes it look like you’re fishing for a job). If your contact asks you to send or bring one, reply with, “Actually, that’s under construction right now. Would it be okay if we set that aside, and when I get a version that’s more complete, I can shoot you a copy then?”

    Here are 2 ways to introduce yourself to a contact once you know the position that you want more information about or that you’re seeking:

    1) “I’m considering (or looking for) a role as a Python developer, but please understand, I don’t expect you to be hiring or to know anyone who is.”

    2) “I’m considering (or looking for) a role as a Python developer. I see that your organization is hiring for that role, but please understand, that’s not why I’m calling (or contacting) you.”

    These meetings that Nick is recommending are all about getting information, advice, and guidance, and getting further referrals. If the people you’re talking / meeting with get the slightest indication that you’re only there to get referred or recommended to a job, you’re dead in the water.

    On the other hand, these meetings very often lead to referrals and recommendations, and even, in some instances, to job offers.

    • @Chris: Thanks for fleshing this out a bit more. It’s difficult for people to understand why it’s a good idea to decline to provide a resume too soon, even if asked.

      Resume behavior is a cognitive script. That is, everyone knows their role. A cognitive script is a well-worn sequence of behaviors that everyone follows mindlessly, because they’ve done it all before a million times.

      The eager job seeker really, really wants to hand it over. “Hey, why NOT? I’m looking for a job, right? Why WOULDN’T I hand it over??” But like any script, the next parts of the action are already written, and with a little reflection you’ll see the outcome is not good. Like in a Shakespeare tragedy, at the end of the last act, all the resumes are lying dead on the stage.

      So change your cognitive script. Make your story about meeting and making new friends. Because that’s where most jobs come from.

  4. ” Library vacation”? what came out of it I found that it is not the WHAT I am working on but the WHO I am working with. I know I am with the right organization if I could pick and choose my grand-kids and the company email list would be my shortlist. The Library is my second home during downtime.

  5. Valuable advice as usual, Nick! For your readers, I’d add two things:

    (1) A highly competent career coach can be invaluable in helping seekers gain clarity about who they are, what they want, and how to go after it in a tailored way. (And I mean professional coach — as in trained, qualified, and asks YOU questions, offers relevant assessments and exercises, and spends most of the session listening and asking questions, NOT blabbering at you.) Many folks get stuck because they don’t know what they want in the first place.

    (2) Some folks — like me — are good at, and interested in, a variety of different jobs, careers, and pursuits. Changing jobs periodically over our life spans is how we roll. We’re called “multipotentialites”, and I highly recommend the “puttyverse” website for community, information about how to appreciate our multipod-ness, and practical ideas for navigating being outliers in a world that prefers to put people in static boxes.

    Bon appetit!