Updated: May 17, 2022
In Part One of this series, I made a case for the importance of research skills in the process of career change. I outlined three reasons why career changers can find it difficult to follow through on their research. I described the method of career research that I teach to my clients in my coaching practice and I argued that short-cuts around the research phase are counterproductive.
In today’s post, we will be looking at the first stage of the career research process – namely, theorizing - and exploring how to get into the right mindset before doing it.
If you recall, theorizing happens after you do in-depth assessments of your core values, skills, interests, personality type, and ideal working conditions. It involves using the knowledge you’ve gained from those assessments to identify career options that are a potential fit for you. The goal of theorizing is to combine your self-knowledge with the use of online tools to generate a list of 7 career titles to start researching.
The goal of theorizing is to combine your self-knowledge with the use of online tools to generate a list of 7 career titles to start researching.
Generating such a list can feel stressful at first, so allow me to offer some advice about getting into the proper mindset beforehand.
1. Trust Your Gut
It is important when making your list of 7 options that you not insist on picking the “right” career titles the first time. You are simply coming up with theories (or “hunches”) about the kind of work that may be a good fit for you. So trust your instincts and be open to revising your list as you gather information along the way.
The method of starting with “hunches” is similar to the method of product design used by engineers. They start with a initial idea for a product design, research and build prototypes, test the prototypes in the real world, and use those tests to discard or refine the product design until it meets their specifications. This process of IDEA GENERATION –> RESEARCH –> TESTING is a circular/self-correcting method. It provides engineers with clarity about the best product designs without them having to know in advance which designs will succeed.
Similar to an engineer, you can find clarity about your best career designs without having to know in advance which of your 7 career theories will stand the test of further research and refinement. And that’s ok because it is the research method itself that provides clarity, not necessarily the first theories you start with.
It is the research method itself that provides clarity, not necessarily the first theories you start with.
2. Think 5-7 Years Ahead
Due to the rapid pace of technological change and innovation in today’s labor market, new job roles are being created every year that didn't exist before. This means that the job market will look very different 10 years from now compared to how it looks today. So what does this mean for you? It means you should not look too far into the future when generating your list of 7 career theories. You are not choosing what you will be doing for the rest of your life!
You are not choosing what to do for the rest of your life.
Because people change their careers every 5-7 years (on average), you are better off not looking much farther ahead than that.
3. Have a “B” List Handy
If you are the type of person who has difficultly narrowing down options, then your might benefit from having two lists instead of one: an A-LIST of your top 7 picks and a B-LIST of secondary prospects. There are at least two benefits to doing this.
First, if your A-LIST does not pan out you won’t feel stuck if you have a B-LIST to fall back on. Second, you may want to combine aspects of both lists later in the research process. For example, if "Financial Advisor" is on you’re A-LIST and "Family Services Counselor" is on your B-LIST, you might discover that you can provide financial advice to families by being a Credit Counselor! Having your B-LIST handy will enable you to detect such connections between overlapping careers.
Having your B-LIST handy will enable you to better detect connections between overlapping careers.
4. Keep Your List Balanced
Online career information is usually classified in terms of industries, roles, and job titles. Industries are the broadest career category. Roles are occupations within an industry. And job titles are specific instances of a role. The Government of Canada’s database of occupational information uses similar terms to classify different job titles.
For example, the database classifies occupations under ten broad industry numbers such as management (0), business, finance and administration (1) natural and applied sciences (2), and health (3), etc. Within the health industry various roles are listed, such as Dietitians and Nutritionists (3132). And within that role, specific titles are included such as Community Dietitian, Nutrition Researcher, and Private Practice Dietitian. This three-tiered classification system is used to throughout the entire database.
Why is it important for you to know how occupations are classified? The reason is that your list of 7 career theories needs to contain an ideal balance of general and specific prospects.
Your list of 7 career theories needs to contain an ideal balance of general and specific prospects.
Why is this so? Because if you only have job titles on your list, you will be aiming at a very narrow range of options and be oblivious to the bigger picture. For example, if you only focus on specific titles like Community Dietitian, Nutrition Researcher, and Private Practice Dietitian, and if your research reveals that none of these options are feasible for you, then you will have ignored the fact that the health industry might still be a good fit. You will have lost the bigger picture. Likewise, if you focus all of your research on general industries such as Health, Business, or Management, it will be hard to find specific roles that match your unique skill set.
So what is the solution? The solution is to generate a list containing an optimal balance of general and specific picks. As a rule of thumb, I advise my clients to choose roles and industries first, before getting too focused on job titles. Usually 4-6 roles and 1-2 industries are a great place to start researching.
Usually 4-6 roles and 1-2 industries are a great place to start researching.
5. Allow For Exceptions
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule of thumb, including the one above. One exception is this: you already have a pretty good sense of the industry and role you want, but are unsure about which titles and work environments are best for you. In that case, your research will focus on organizations that interest you, their work cultures, and the specific jobs they hire for.
For example, suppose you are already working in the health industry as a dietitian and you know that it is a good fit. Nevertheless, you dislike your daily work routine. Perhaps you are frustrated with the constraints of working for a family health team. Perhaps you are looking for more variety in your work than one-on-one consultations with patients. Maybe you feel isolated from other people and want to be more active in the community. In that case, your list of 7 options will be much more specific than if you were looking for opportunities outside the health industry. It might include titles like Community Dietitian or Sports Dietitian, as well as job environments like School Boards, Non-Profit Organizations, or Sports Teams.
So what’s the moral of this story? The moral is that your list should be as general or as specific as your current needs dictate.
Your list should be as general or as specific as your current needs dictate.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for making lists. But that is a good thing because your research needs are unique to you. That’s the mindset you need to have.
For additional information on this topic, stay tuned for my next post on how use online tools to help generate your list of 7 career theories.
 This database is called the National Occupational Classification list - or NOC list for short. This list does not use the exact terminology of industry, role, and job title to classify occupations, but my terminology is very similar and much simpler - so am going to those terms here.