This is an exercise to try sometime when you have two important options you are considering. It’s the “Flip A Coin” exercise.
Designate heads to one of the choices and tails to the other choice. Then flip a coin and notice how you feel once you see which choice won.
How you feel as a result of the flip is your intuition at work. It suddenly becomes quite clear how you feel about the option that won and maybe even what was better about the other choice.
This exercise of taking that one small action can really tune you in to how you would feel about the choices rather than just logically thinking them through using your mind only. How you feel about the decision is much more predictive of how you will do with that decision once you’ve kicked it off into action.
Choosing a career direction is a complex process involving many steps including exploring your interests, skills, values, and personality type, plus lots of time to learn and to strategize a career development plan. After the beginning steps of self-assessment, you choose a few of the career fields that seem to have the most promise and do more intense research.
Researching career fields begins with taking a look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook and the O*Net to learn more about specific career fields. Then, if a specific career field is still being considered, it is time to go out into the field to learn more. In fact, one of the most important aspects of choosing a career path is to get out in the real world and study real people. People who are doing the kind of job that you might want to do someday. One way to do this is through informational interviewing.
Typically, the informational interview process looks like this:
- find people in the career of interest to talk to
- schedule a time to meet with them for 30 minutes or so
- ask questions about their career, and then
- send a thank you note.
There are several ways to find people for an informational interview. The best method is to use your network of contacts to find people in the line of work that you want to learn more about. Begin asking family members, friends, and other people who they know working in the career. For example, you might approach your aunt and ask her, “Who do you know who works as a civil engineer?” Once a member of your network knows someone to refer you to, ask for that person’s name and phone number. You will be surprised how many people your contacts know and how easy it is to find people to talk to about all kinds of careers.
Next, call the new contact. Give your name and how you know about them. Tell them that you are interested in learning more about their career field and that you were hoping they could help. Ask if you can schedule a time to speak with them for 30 minutes because you would like to ask them how they got into the field and about their recommendations for people who are considering entering the profession.
Following are some questions typically asked in an informational interview. Remember you most likely will not be able to ask them all since you want to keep the interview to only 30 minutes. Be sure to take a pen and paper for quick notes and recommendations and to assist you with writing a thank you note the following day. Be sure to note the correct spelling of their name and their address by asking them the information and writing it down in your notes or checking their business card.
SAMPLE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
- How did you develop your career path?
- How did you get into this job?
- What are your duties as a ____?
- How long have you been in this position?
- What do you like best about this career?
- What do you like least about this career?
- What would you do differently if you were starting over in this field?
- What are the educational requirements of this field?
- What is the typical salary range for this career field?
- Can you recommend some professional associations for this career field?
- What do you read to stay up-to-date in the field?
- What further education do you participate in?
- What are the advancement opportunities in this field?
- What do you see as the future of this career field?
- What is your career goal for the future?
- What is happening in this industry?
- What kinds of companies make up this industry?
- Where has growth taken place in this field recently?
- Who are your customers or clients?
- How do you promote your products and/or services?
- Who are some of your competitors?
- What has helped to make companies successful in this industry?
- What recommendations do you have for a person interested in this field?
- Do you know others I should speak to about this career field?
Often people get it backward. They arrive at a time in their lives when they need a new job then the first thing they do is look for job openings. It may seem logical but it is not the most beneficial way to go about it. Many of those jobs are not a good match for one reason or another. If they are not a match then they are just distractions.
Instead, flip the process around and begin with yourself. Engage in some pre-job hunt career research. Career research is a process of getting in-depth knowledge of yourself and an idea of where your skills and interests best fit into the career landscape. The purpose of career research is to develop a career strategy and job hunt plan. So the process looks like this instead:
- Begin with self-awareness
- Study occupations
- Then industry trends
- Then company culture and job openings.
There are strong advantages to working a job hunt from this angle. First is that you will get a better understanding of your personal brand along the way. You will be able to strategically network with others knowing what you want them to remember about you. You also gain a deep understanding of what makes your heart sing and will be able to zoom in on opportunities that are more likely to work optimally for you. Lastly, you will come from a position of passion in job interviews and will be more convincing and so more likely to win the offer.
A good place to start is with this career aptitude test based on the Holland Codes. It’s good, it’s quick, and it’s free. The results are useful and interesting. The same website also has some excellent career research resources. I love the way the information on each job title is presented. It’s easy to read, short and sweet, and particularly relevant. Of course, O*Net is a very good resource for career research as well.
I ran across this article predicting jobs that don’t exist yet and wanted to share it. Looking at changes coming down the pipeline in your industry is a great way to navigate your career development and learning plan. Take time once a year or so to think forward in your career and look for neat niches you can steer toward as one strategy for knowing what learning experiences will best add to your repertoire.
Other ways to stay ahead of the curve is to host discussions with colleagues, to have periodic informational interviews with experts in your field, and to read the professional literature related to your occupation. All the while asking questions in order to encourage your brain to make connections and notice developing trends.
Ask questions such as:
- What is the biggest problem in my career field right now?
- What industry is my industry starting to merge with?
- How will changes in the industry influence what happen in my occupation?
A while back, I had e-mail correspondence with someone I barely know who asked if I ever watched The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, which is no longer in production but there is a book* and you can find bits here and there on the internet with a search. When someone comes by with a little tip like that out of nowhere, I pay attention. My experience shows that there is probably something I need to see there. So I responded that I had not, and thanked her for the referral. I watched some episodes, and I enjoyed the show.
I also noticed an interesting phenomenon…
On the show, one of the main things Donny Deutsch does is to try and get insight with each person featured on the show about exactly where and how they got that big idea. This makes total sense because that is the name of the show, after all, so people really should expect that question. Nevertheless, each time he asks it, the person pauses for a moment and looks as if they are processing that question and aren’t quite sure what to say. As if they are saying to themselves, “Hey, that is a good question, where did that idea come from?” And, it is a pertinent question because essentially Donny is trying to educate and coach people in his audience to find their own big idea and go for it.
The question is difficult because when people have a great idea, they are fully engaged in whatever it is they’re studying at the time inspiration strikes. All they remember is that they were busy following their noses, uncovering clues, letting one thing lead to another, and it all seemed obvious at the time…until they get this question anyway. That is when it becomes apparent they were just in their creative flow, and it’s hard to explain.
Creativity is something that we all have if we can open to it. The first step for someone who is sitting around wanting ideas but having none is to remove all barriers to getting into the flow of creativity. Creativity can’t occur while sitting in judgment of every thought that pops into your head. A person has to open their mind and be comfortable with the creative process. Some people are very good at tapping into their creative source consistently; others might have to be reminded to let go and play a little.
Begin by exploring things that catch your eye, just follow your nose a bit and see what happens. Once you have gathered some info, give yourself a rest and see what your wonderfully creative mind cooks up. When you feel a little kick of enthusiasm, you may be on to something.