Meeting People is Easy: Informational Interviews

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One of the most helpful things I do as I make progress in my career transformation is to be open to meeting as many people as I can who work in the industry I’m moving into.  I started out small, knowing very few people working in digital or at a design firm or at a tech company but as I meet people, my network grows.  People enjoy talking about what they do and helping others who want to learn.  People are proud of the work they do and it’s their way of giving back.

So, I set up in-person meetings at my contacts' convenience.  Meeting in person is critical as it establishes a good report and allows me to get the person’s full attention.  It's also more fun and I have a chance to show some personality.

I make sure to leave every meeting with the following:

  1. Insight on information specific to the industry, role(s) I’m curious about and very importantly, what steps I can take to learn and develop.
  2. Another contact.  I make a point to ask the person if they know and are willing to put me in touch with some other folks who might be able to and want to help out.

I meet with as many people as I can, even if they may give me very similar information as another person who I’ve spoken to – There is something to be said about getting different perspectives. Even when a meeting is not what I had hoped for, I have always been able to take at least one positive from the experience. 

Finding Daily Inspiration

Let’s be honest, tackling a career change can be daunting and it’s easy to lose sight of why you are doing this at all.  I find it extremely important to spend some time each day reading regularly updated industry news and blogs that have industry tidbits, tips, company showcases and feature interesting and innovative products produced from the types of firms I want to work for.

Of everything I read in this specific area, my favorite place to cull inspiration and ideas is Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/).  These guys focus on everything from innovation to technology to productivity to business and entrepreneurship and more.  I find the reads to be succinct, informative and they get my day going.

I also like to read the blogs of companies that I admire.   A few of these are:

frog:  http://designmind.frogdesign.com/

Ideo:  http://designthinking.ideo.com/

Method:  http://method.com/#/about/10x10

I will frequently post pieces of inspiration I come across that are specific to the knowledge areas I’m pursuing.  These posts will be specific or related to the design industry.

Acknowledge Reality

I mentioned the importance of thinking in ideal terms when putting together a picture of an ideal work situation.  In the beginning, it was important for me to be a bit of a dreamer because it kept me focused on what it is that makes me excited and driven and gave me a goal to strive for.  It was also vital in keeping me inspired and motivated to find an awesome job.

There also comes a time when it is important to inject a sense of reality into the equation. The reality factor is equally important because it helped me parse out values that I absolutely needed to fulfill and those that may not be as important.  This is life we’re talking about here: nothing is absolutely perfect.  Most importantly, thinking rationally and realistically helps me focus on HOW to get to where I want to be. 

 

Map and Match Values

After coming up with a good list of what is important to me, my core values, I wanted to dig deeper and match these values to disciplines and industries.  I thought about the essence of each value on my list and how each could translate to the professional world.  I made sure to keep these ideas fresh in my mind so that I could make connections as I attended events, met people and actively researched.

There are a number of ways to make connections between what is important to you and the type of work that will satisfy this...but my best advice to be CURIOUS.  Always keep your values in mind and explore.  There's no linear, prescribed method - It is you who will have an idea already what you will and will not do, can and cannot do.  Be persistent and explore.

A good friend of mine so happens to be leading a tech startup and invited myself and a group of friends down to the technology portion of SXSW to help promote his business.  Not only did I want to go to help him out and the event would be a ton of fun, I saw the connection that there was a great opportunity to network and learn about an industry which at the time was new to me.  Creativity, innovation, design and technology are some key words on my list of values and all of these things are synonymous with the mission of SXSW.

Going into that experience, I didn't know what to expect.  I’m happy to say that I left the festival having made progress in discovering an area to explore - I met some exciting people who worked for a digital agency and were nice enough to fill me in on their world.  I left SXWS having discovered an area of interest and I was pumped to dive in and learn more.

Identifying Your Core Values

It was easy for me to say that it was time to make a change.  Sometimes the easiest and most obvious way to make a decision to move on to something new is when there is a persistent and chronic pain point.  I knew what I didn’t like about my work situation.  Being unhappy is unpleasant and that made it clear to me that I needed to make a change.  I have a great professional record and the easy route to take would have been to immediately begin looking for similar jobs within my industry.  Finding another job for the sake of finding another job would not have taken much time, effort or creativity.  Most importantly, following this path wouldn’t have addressed the core issues central to my problem.Read More

Connecting the Dots: Treating Career Transformation as a Professional Project – Take Time to Plan

I am at a point in my life where I am able to act on my curiosity and I am fortunate enough to be able to fully dedicate my days working towards my goal.  I want to be certain that I make the right decisions and I’m ensuring that I am as thorough as possible.  I’m all in and I am taking this time very seriously. 

One common theme you will see throughout this blog is the idea of making connections.  Maybe more now than ever, I’ve noticed the importance and benefits of connecting ideas, thoughts and principles between seemingly disparate disciplines or knowledge areas.  Viewing this time from a high level, it seems logical and natural for me to treat my work as I would conduct a project in the professional world. 

I understand that a project has little to no chance of succeeding if it is not properly planned.  Thoroughly planning a project will dramatically increase the odds that it will produce great results.  A common question my friends have asked me in conversation has been: “Have you started applying for jobs yet?” and my answer has steadfastly been “No.”  I am dedicating as much time (within reason) to ensure that I have organized and constructed a plan that I can feel confident acting on. 

The first steps in my planning were to formulate a thought process.  I had to do some classic soul searching.

My Story, In Brief (How Did I Get Here?)

I suppose there could be a number of reasons someone may want to make a career change.  Maybe you want to make more money?  Maybe you decide to move and realize that your industry or line of work isn’t possible in the new location…I’m sure the list could go on.  I decided to make a change for reasons that are intangible…Simply put: I want to enjoy what I do.  For me, this comes down to combining two things:  I want to explore my interests and I want to utilize my strengths.

I graduated college with a B.S. in Plant Biology (yes, plants as in botany plants).  At the time, I enjoyed my choice of study.  After graduation, I immediately landed a job at a leading biotech company that took me from Athens, Georgia to San Francisco.  I enjoyed the work that I did, but the social aspect of my life was not what I wanted it to be.  I wasn’t happy.  I determined that it was far more important for me to have a fulfilling personal life than completely trade that off for a job.  I left my job in California and moved to New York where I was certain I would be socially fulfilled.  Having good friends in New York and having visited many times before, I was certain that this was the city for me.  New York City is a special place – If you want to make it happen, you can get to where you want to be if you work at it.  New York rewards curiosity. 

I landed several jobs in New York, ultimately spending a few years at a major pharmaceutical company.  I was (and am) very content socially but I was very unhappy with my job.  It turned out that as a stroke of good fortune, said company decided to perform a serious of major layoffs and as fortune would have it, I was “impacted.”  Now I have a new job:  Transforming my career.

With all of this being said, I don’t regret my studies and degree - I’m actually proud of them.  As time went on, I just realized that I needed to explore other avenues.  My past experience has set me up nicely to get to where I want to be professionally and to be successful where I land.