By Rose Holland, CWDP
Last week I talked the importance of starting a CAREER. I touched on the need to take the time to conduct advisory conversations. A serious career exploration is going to take some time. The biggest roadblock for many is holding advisory conversations with those who are working in the field.
An advisory conversation may also be known as an informational interview. This is a great way to learn more about career fields from those actually doing the work. This tends to be the scariest step of career exploration for many, and one that is skipped all too often, but it is the most important step!
Step 1 – Determine the Type of People You Will Interview
Let’s talk about how you can find the right people. Remember, you are not asking for a job (and you should not be), you just want to talk to someone about their career. People love to talk about their careers and how they got there. You are not asking for a huge commitment from anyone, you only need 30 minutes of their time. That is not too bad, is it?
Ideally you want to meet with people who are in leadership roles, those who would have the authority to hire someone. Remember, you are not asking for a job, but someone who can hire someone is a great person to add to your network and should have more experience in the career field.
You also want to seek out a number of people in the field that hold a variety of positions. For example if you are considering accounting you might connect to corporate, tax and personal accountants. Considering nursing? Connect to those in supervisory positions at clinics, hospitals, home health care and assisted living facilities.
Step 2 – Finding the Right People
So you developed a list of the type of people you want to interview, now you just have to figure out HOW to find these people. This is actually so much easier than people realize. The first place to start is your network. Ask fellow military spouses, talk to the Employment Readiness Program at your Family Center to see if they have contacts, connect with your alumni group or college career center.
Use your LinkedIn network to find professionals. Use the advanced search in LinkedIn and connect to professionals in a given field, ask or introductions from your first line connections when you can. You can also search for organizations and groups for a given career field.
Another excellent place to look is professional organizations for a given career. Just about every career has an association. Find out the associations for your organization and connect to national, state and local chapters. Attend local meetings if you can. It is amazing how helpful these organizations are.
While it sounds a bit scary, you need to remember that people love talking about themselves and are more than willing to assist someone interested in their same career field. No matter who you contact, set up an appointment to meet. You are only asking for 30 minutes to an hour of their time. The advisory conversations can be done via phone or in-person.
Step 3 – Prepare for the Advisory Conversation
Gulp, ok, I have decided to really do this, now what? Prepare a list of questions. What do you want to know? The goal of these questions is to help you better understand the career field along with requirements needed should you enter the career field. Typical questions for advisory conversations include:
- How did you get into the career field?
- What do you like most about your position?
- What are the challenges?
- Can you tell me about a typical day?
- What are the education requirements?
- Would it be possible to job shadow someone for a day or more?
- What advice do you have for someone considering getting into the field?
- What do you wish you knew before you started in your career?
- What are some things I could do now in order to start gaining some experience in the field?
- Is there anything else I should know about this career field?
You may have other questions. Write them down. Have a written list ready for your appointment. You will be having a conversation and your questions will help guide the conversation.
Step 4 – Conducting the Advisory Conversation
On the day of your be sure to dress professionally. Go dressed for an interview. A suit is great for both men and women, it shows you are taking this seriously. If you are in the process of entering into this career field, take a resume, BUT do not provide it to them unless they ask.
Bring a portfolio that holds your questions, a pad of paper along with a pen so you can take notes. Arrive 5 to 15 minutes early, just as you would for an interview. Explain why you are there and where you are in your career search. You may have already chosen a general field and are further exploring different aspects, or you could just be starting out on your search. It does not matter where you are in the process.
I recommend starting out asking about their career and how they got to where they are in their field (remember, you are interviewing people in management so they have been in the field for a while). Listen and ask questions. Hold a conversation, but be sure all of your questions are answered.
At the end of the conversation, be sure to shake their hand and thank them for their time. Ask if you can keep in touch and follow up if you have additional questions. You are building relationships in the field and expanding your network, a side benefit of these advisory conversations.
Step 5 -Sit Down and Review Your Notes
Now it’s time to sit down and go over all you discovered. Weigh the pros and cons expressed by the person you interviewed. Make a list of key points. Write it all down as this information will help you as you determine your career path. Your goal is to at least narrow down your career choices to a broad career path after all of your advisory conversations (remember, you are conducting multiple conversations, not just one).
Step 6 – Follow Up
Be sure to send a thank you note, if possible hand written. It sounds a bit old fashioned, but think about how rarely you receive a handwritten note. You will be remembered for doing so. Thank them for their time and expand on something that stood out for you. At a minimum, send an email thanking them.
Keep in touch. Let those who took the time to advise you know how you are using the information. This can be done via email or even through a LinkedIn message. You are letting them know you value the insights they provided you and are also building a relationship with a professional in the field.
That is it. It really is not that difficult to hold advisory conversations. Go for it. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it is worth it.
Rose Holland is the spouse of an Active Duty Army Reservist and is an advocate for military and veteran families. She has three adult children and has been married to her husband, Michael, for 30 years. She is a certified Workforce Development Professional, Federal Career Coach and Job Search Trainer.