The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the average person will have 11 different jobs in his/her lifetime and keep each job for 4.5 years. If this rings true for you, one thing is for sure, you need the skills and tools to reinvent yourself, reimagine yourself, and explore industries that might be new to you.
Below are five key ways to learn about an industry that piques your curiosity and is new to you.
1. Talk to folks in that industry
This sounds simple, though it can be confusing to know where to start. Consider your social network for connections. See if someone, or if a company of interest, links you to a person who might be willing to speak with you. Then, reach out and ask for an informational interview. (A what?!)
An informational interview is just a fancy term for a conversation where you ask questions of a person in a position that interests you. You can connect with someone and ask for a brief phone call or even a meeting for coffee. Just be sure to be brief and to-the-point in your request for a conversation. This helps ensure that the person will take the time to read your message and consider your request.
Don’t be shy. The worst anyone can say is politely, “I don’t have time”, and the best they can say is “Yes”! Most of the time, people are endeared to a person who seeks them out for insight and advice. And don’t just stop at one connection. Make several efforts to connect with multiple points of view.
A few places to look for connections: social media, alumni network, social groups, friends and family etc…
If the industry you are exploring is one that lends itself to volunteer work, consider lending your time to gain experience and knowledge about that industry. Of course, many nonprofit organizations or service-oriented social enterprises would leap at the opportunity to have more talented and compassionate people on their team. You often do not need to give a large amount of your time, and you might decide to volunteer for more than one organization, depending on your schedule. Unless you have a specific place in mind, search your local area for organizations that help provide information and connect volunteers to opportunities. In Nashville, TN, there is Hands On Nashville or the Center for NonProfit Management. There is also an organization dedicated to social enterprise called the Nashville Social Enterprise Alliance, which also has a national chapter. You might even consider volunteering to help organize an event relating to your field of interest or one that is sponsored by a company of interest.
3. Short Term Projects and Entry-Level Work
In some cases, you can score an opportunity to work for a company in an industry of interest on an experimental basis. As you connect with people and companies in the industry, keep your eyes open and be assertive in your communication to learn where there might be possibilities for one-time projects, internships, or part-time jobs. A former colleague once entered into a new industry by taking up a technical writing project to help and friend of a friend overloaded in his new business.
Once again, these options depend upon your flexibility and time constraints, though if you are seeking to redesign your life or you are looking to fill a gap, these can also be excellent avenues to gain more experience. In addition, if you feel that you need to “start over” in an industry, remember that you have many transferable skills, and you only build upon your experience. Careers are not linear anymore and they are made up of opportunities which come in many forms. You might consider taking an entry-level position in a new industry as well.
4. Professional Associations
A quick and simple internet search will help you begin to learn about the different legitimate professional associations in existence dedicated to educating, advocating for, and governing different industries. In addition, in any informational interview, it is a great idea to always ask the person about their recommendations on professional associations. You can also look to your local chamber of commerce for initiatives related to your industry of interest and even insight into area groups that support the industry. Some examples are: the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for Human Resources, the American Psychological Association (APA) for psychology and related fields, the American Marketing Association (AMA) for the field of marketing. Look for national and local chapters and see how you might become involved. Their websites are even a wealth of information.
5. Social Media
Follow people and companies of interest on any of the social media networks. LinkedIn groups are also a great way to peer into an industry when you can join a group that is not locked. Regardless, you can follow conversations, comment, and interact with relevant topics to not only learn more but begin to make yourself known to the industry as well.
6. Industry Publications and the OOH
Many industries have popular publications dedicated to each field. Sometimes there may be scholarly journals to review, magazines to read, or simply blogs to which you can subscribe. Do your research to decide which sources you want to explore as you begin, and revise this list as you learn more and progress. You can also review magazines for general information and trends in business. Consider subscribing to your local business journal as well, if your interest remains local to your area.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook, supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is a great basic resource for industry exploration. Peruse this site using “Occupation Groups”, “Featured Occupations”, “Fastest Growing Occupations”, and much more….
Let these tips also remind you that you never have to be a “finished product” in your life or your career. Sometimes the best answer to your burnout, boredom, or that unidentified tap on your shoulder, is the view from a new industry. Be cautious not to stifle your exploration by making assumptions about what you know – about yourself, your marketability, or the world of work. You may be surprised what you learn about areas of life and work where stones remain unturned by you.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics