When I was doing my GCSEs, I completed a careers questionnaire at school designed to tell me my dream job. When ‘carpet fitter’ popped up, I was more than a bit confused. While I’m sure there are many carpet fitters who love their job, I must confess I don’t think my strengths and preferences are aligned to that particular career!
So where did that leave me? Throughout school and university, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew I was interested in business and people, but having grown up in a household of teachers, I had no idea what kind of other careers were out there. We are often told to “follow our passion” and “do what you love” but sometimes working that out in the first place can be tricky, never mind turning it into a viable career.
It took me a lot of wrong turns and false starts to work out what I wanted to be a career coach, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. I don’t believe many people wake up one morning and know exactly what it is they want to do; I think it’s an ongoing – sometimes frustrating – active process. I invested time into researching different career paths, and approached distant LinkedIn contacts and friends of friends to help me find out more about possible career options.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised (and grateful) at how willing people are to spare 15 minutes on a phone call with me so I can learn more about their career, and these conversations undoubtedly helped me refine what it was I wanted from my own career.
Here are my top 5 tips if you want to use your network to help you figure out what’s next for you:
1. Avoid the cold-calling approach: People are more likely to be receptive if you have some kind of connection with them. You may have shared groups on LinkedIn, or have mutual connections that can introduce you. Outside of work, ask your personal contacts if they know anyone that works in the industry you’re interested in finding out more about.
2. Be upfront about what it is you want from them: People might get nervous if they think you are approaching them on the hunt for a job. Be honest and say you are exploring different career paths and you would like to hear more about what they do (and don’t) like about their chosen career.
3. Be flexible but proactive when arranging a meeting: Once your contact has agreed to speak with you, put forward some suggestions of where and when you are able to meet, but emphasise you are open to further suggestions from them. Phone calls may be easier than face to face meetings to squeeze in, and it’s polite to offer to call them rather than asking them to call you.
4. Drive the meeting: When the meeting takes place, give a brief introduction and outline what it is you’d like to get from the meeting. Make sure you have plenty of pre-prepared considered questions to ask them (that you couldn’t find the answer to simply by using Google!) and emphasise that you are also happy to answer any questions they may have for you. At the end of the meeting you may also want to ask if there is anything you can do to help them out with in their professional world.
5. Wrap up and follow up: Don’t keep the person longer than they are expecting, and make sure you note down anything important so you don’t need to ask them to repeat themselves. Try and take responsibility yourself for any follow up actions, and drop them a brief summary email thanking them for giving up their time and outlining any agreed next steps.
I hope you found this useful, and remember even if your meetings highlight exactly what it is you definitely don’t want to do, you’re still learning!
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