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First Steps to a Career Change

Ask The Expert

Q: I am considering a career change but don’t know how to get started. Since I’m not sure what I want to do next, is there a good first step for me?

A: A great way to get started is to do informational interviews. These are brief meetings with a professional who works in a field you’re interested in, in which you get to ask questions about what the person does and how he or she got into that field. This is a great way to learn about jobs you may not be familiar with and to get referrals to others who may be able to point you in the right direction.

Informational interviews take some planning. You don’t just want to call or email strangers and ask if you can meet with them—you’ll probably raise some red flags! Instead, go through your LinkedIn contacts and your professional network to see who works in a field you find interesting and might want to know more about.

Most people enjoy talking about their careers. You just need to get them started with some good open-ended questions.

Contact the person to ask if you can set up a 20-minute meeting at their convenience. If he or she is located out of the area, suggest a phone interview. Plan your questions carefully, be on time, and dress professionally—the same way you would for a job interview.

Most people enjoy talking about their careers. You just need to get them started with some good open-ended questions, like these:

  • I’ve been thinking that [insert field or job] sounds like something I might be interested in doing. How did you get started?
  • What did you major in, and do I need that degree to work in your field?
  • Tell me about a typical day at work so I can get a sense of the job duties you perform.

During your interview, be prepared to share a bit about yourself so that the person can get a sense of whether you might be a fit for this field.

Stick to the timeframe you committed to when you made the appointment. Some people may be so interested in the discussion that they are happy to go longer, but let it be their choice.

Before you leave, ask if the person is willing to refer you to someone else for more information. Thank the person for his or her time, and be sure to send a written thank you after the interview.

Use the information you’ve gathered to help point you in a possible new direction. And if you got the name of someone else to contact, follow up—it could lead to your next great career move.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected]

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