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How to Do Career Research - Part 1: The Big Picture

Career change and research go hand-in-hand. With so many opportunities available in today’s labor market, the ability to find and interpret accurate information about your next steps is crucial for transitioning into a new role with clarity and confidence. Among other things, you will need to gather information on transferable skills, training requirements, working conditions, salary, advancement opportunities, and market demand for the future roles you are considering.

Three Reasons Why Career Research Is Difficult

Unfortunately, this is where most career changers get tripped up. They often struggle with uncertainty, overwhelm, and exhaustion when trying to do their own research, and a result, they find it hard to keep going.

But why exactly do career changers get tripped up? I can think of at least three reasons:

First, they haven’t completed self-assessments before the research phase. Because they haven’t assessed their core values, skills, interests, personality type and ideal working conditions, they find it hard to recognize opportunities that fit with their unique needs. Not having done enough self-reflection beforehand, they get lost in too many options or reject prospects that would otherwise be a great fit. This often leads to confusion and burnout.

Second, they don’t know how to gather and interpret career information. Perhaps they are clear about their values, skills, and interests, but they aren’t sure how to study different job titles, roles, and industries on their own. Without knowing where to find accurate career information, what to do with conflicting information, or how to organize the information effectively, they end up stalling halfway through the research process.

Third, they underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to do the research well. On average, it takes career changers roughly 8 weeks to gather the information they need through websites, online databases, and in-person interviews.[1] That is a lot of work, especially if you are already employed full-time! Is it any wonder, then, that career changers feel tempted to fast-forward through their research and simply “leap” into their next job, hoping that it will be a good fit?

Indeed, this is sobering to think about. So what can be done? Do any of these scenarios describe you? If they do, then don’t lose heart. It is hard to investigate career options all on your own, but there is hope.

A Better Way To Do Career Research

The good news is that there is a better way to do career research – a way that provides you with the skills you need to clarify your next career steps. But what is it?

In my own coaching practice, I teach career research methods in three simple stages: (1) theorizing, (2) information gathering, and (3) test-driving. I also provide my clients with time management strategies to help them dedicate enough time to each stage.[2] So, what happens in these three stages?

During the first stage, clients use knowledge of their personality type, skills, values, interests, and ideal working conditions (which I assess beforehand) to theorize about which career options would be a potential fit. The purpose of theorizing is not to predict your best career options right off the bat. Rather, the focus is on trusting your instincts and using online tools to generate a list of 7-10 career prospects that are initially appealing.

During the second stage, I train my clients to use online and in-person research methods to gather information on their 10 prospects. This stage reveals which options have the highest fit and feasibility for them. It also enables them to narrow their focus from 10 options down to 3.

During the third stage, my clients actively engage in test-driving their top 3 picks. They gain direct, temporary exposure to careers by job shadowing, interning, and volunteering in their choice roles. By directly experiencing roles in this way, clients decide whether to move forward, revise their options, or pursue different paths altogether.

Hard Work Pays Off

As mentioned earlier, career research takes time and hard work. The theorizing and informational gathering stages together take roughly 8 weeks to complete (although the test-driving stage tends to go more quickly when job shadowing techniques is used).

However, it is worth remembering that 8 weeks is only an average number. There is no right or wrong length of research time for you. It can go longer or shorter depending on a variety of factors, such as how soon you want to make a change, how dissatisfied you are with your current employment, the complexity of the situation you are leaving, and the number of job variables you plan to change (e.g. new industry, location, etc).

Whatever your time-line, my encouragement to you is this: as long as you are taking planned, intentional steps toward your research goals, doing it thoughtfully and accurately, and reaching out for help when necessary, you are on the right track. The research phase might feel like another part-time job (because it kinda is!), but it is a temporary part of the career change process that will save you a lot of heartache in the future if you do it right the first time. As Cavoulacos and Minshew (2017) write:

“What if putting the effort into really thinking about your options could save you the headache - not to mention the heartache - of finding yourself in the wrong job altogether and having to do [your career research] all over again?"

Needless to say, as a Career Coach, I want to spare you that heartache! That’s why I will be writing a series of future blog posts that walk you through the theorizing, information gathering, and test-driving stages in greater detail, so that you can research your next steps with confidence. So stay tuned!


[1] Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career. New York: Crown Business, 2017, p.28, 43. What is more, these authors recommend dedicating 10 hours per week to research during those 8 weeks!

[2] I have written a couple of blog posts here and here on the subject of time management. These posts are focused on making time for job search activities amidst a busy schedule, but they can be applied to career research activities as well.

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