You Can't Change Careers When You're Sitting Behind A Desk; Here's Why
Googling jobs is a great place to start, but finding a career you truly love requires laying some IRL groundwork. Here's how to approach it.
Very often, I’m the first real person my clients talk to when they‘re considering a career change. Despite doing hours or days or weeks of intense virtual research, they arrive feeling frustrated and stuck. Sometimes they’re so overwhelmed by the sheer volume and variety of ideas that they can’t begin to pin down or prioritize. Other times, they’re devoid of a single appealing insight regarding what to do next.
Either way, these conscientious, committed career-changers are struggling to figure out where and how to make things happen. The first thing I tell them is that you can’t change careers sitting behind a desk. Then we talk about ways to switch your search technique to “finding people not jobs”. This conversation is about how to get out of your head and into action.
If you’re stuck on how to start talking to real people working in jobs or areas you’re keen to explore, here’s what I suggest.
Unblock your brain
Start by getting out of “analysis paralysis.” This is what happens when you’ve gone over and around a problem so many times that you no longer know which way is up. You’re second-guessing yourself, dismissing some ideas out of hand, and analyzing others into oblivion. You’re obsessing over the facts and drowning in data. The only way out of analysis paralysis is to move. You need to escape the sticky, seductive web of information and untested assumptions you’ve created, and check things out in the real world.
Accept that you “can’t be what you can’t see”
If you don’t know that a job exists, it can’t possibly get on your radar. When you’ve worked in the same industry for five or 15 years, you’ll have deep knowledge about how it operates and how you’ve applied your skills and experience there. Once that sector or role stops working for you, it’s time to seek out new knowledge and to test those assumptions about your chances of making a successful change.
“Less thinking, more doing” is the key to broadening your knowledge of all your potentially exciting and as-yet-unknown careers.
It’s time to have real conversations with people who do the kinds of things you’re curious about and keen to explore. “Finding people not jobs” means simply talking to people who do something that sounds interesting, without putting pressure on yourself that you are going to find the answer or the job that you are going to do next. Simply treat this as exploration.
How to prepare
Before you get out of your head, spend a little time setting yourself up for “right thought right action.” Even if you don’t feel especially optimistic or confident about your conversation and networking skills, try telling yourself you have absolutely nothing to lose.
See the adventure
Changing careers can be scary and exhausting. No wonder lots of us hide out in safe cyberspace amassing heaps of interesting data that’s not directly helpful.
Aim to balance your natural career-change anxiety with a sense of adventure. Offsetting anxiety with curiosity and excitement can help your confidence when you step out of your virtual comfort zone into actual encounters with interesting humans.
Rather than treating these conversations as a relentless hunt for a new role, simply ask for information. Go with few expectations beyond the chance to build your network by sharing your interest in the area they work in. If you leave with an insight into how much or how little the role or the area or the workplace resonates with you, you’ve made a successful contact.
When you’re ready to give career change conversations a go, be your authentically uncertain self. Be honest about finding your way and exploring your options. Opt for vulnerability over trying to be someone more certain or more expert than you really are.
Be interested as well as interesting
Your new contacts are people too. Besides asking about the job, ask about how they got there and what keeps them there. Ask if they’ve ever been where you are and how they’ve handled tough times in their own careers. We forget that people love to share their stories and also love to help if you give them a problem to solve.
Where to begin
Activate your network
Start by asking friends, family members and ex-colleagues who they know in areas you’re keen to explore. Work through a list of LinkedIn connections and people you see each week outside of work who might be able to connect you to someone.
Make it easy for people to help you by being specific about whom you want to speak to, and be persistent. For example, if you’re a fabulous, fanatical cake maker you might say, “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to bake for a living. Do you know anyone in catering or cafes that I could talk to?”
Sooner or later, this person or a contact for them will pop up in your network. Your lead could be closer than you think. My client with an interest in alternative medicine learned heaps from talking to her brother’s neighbor who is a naturopath. Another client traded lunch with an acquaintance in return for talking about his role as a psychologist.
Extend your reach
Once you’ve had some warm leads from close contacts, try extending your reach. If you’re authentic, open and clear about what you’re looking for, you’re likely to get positive responses from comparatively cold contacts. Reach out to people directly through social media and LinkedIn. Hunt down their email or phone number online and just pick up the phone. Accept that this will be a numbers game and be prepared to keep going if you don’t get an immediate "yes." If your enthusiasm for cold(ish) calling is waning, remember this: You never know when your call or email might connect you to one of the roughly 70 per cent of jobs that never get advertised.
Be grateful for dead ends
Treat dead ends as fuel for your career change filter. When you walk away from a conversation that just didn’t feel right, it’s a chance to strike off something that doesn’t really interest or suit you. Learn from a dead-end insight and move in a different direction towards areas or roles that look and feel more likely.
Swap passive for active
If you’re stuck in analysis paralysis, spending quiet hours on the internet researching career change feels like you’re doing something. Sadly, the odds of that something uncovering your next brilliant career are close to zero. While Google is a great problem solver, finding answers to who you are and how you work takes more than a thousand clicks.
You need real world experience to discover how you feel about things rather than just how you think about them. This means speaking to people who are doing the things you have an urge or inkling to do. So get up from your desk, get out of your head, and get into action.
Words: Jo Green