Whether this is your first career or your tenth, you probably want to know what you are getting yourself into in the first place. Plus, school is expensive — if you are going to invest tens of thousands of dollars into a degree, and then switch careers and go back to school again the next year, you might as well have done your research towards a career that would have aligned better with you.
When you are exploring careers, I recommend that you thoroughly research and understand the career path. Before we have the opportunity to work in our field of interest, we generally see our career path with rose-coloured glasses. While we want to be optimistic about our career path, I believe a stronger understanding of the realities and challenges of the profession will prepare your expectations better. Also, staying updated on the trends and news within your field will help you stand out from other professionals who are competing for similar jobs. The more you know about your career field, the more likely you are to find success through job opportunities and career advancement.
Here are 8 ways to learn more about your career field:
Do online research.
This may seem like a no-brainer but there are plenty of resources online to learn about your career field. Find out about the responsibilities you are likely to have as a professional, the career advancement path, and salary information. You can review job postings on Indeed or browse the many career profiles on government websites, like WorkBC. Labour market information is generally available on government sites as well. Doing research on the labour market will help you make career decisions as you would want to avoid a career path that does not have any opportunities where you live (unless you plan to move in the future).
Attend networking events.
Networking events are a great way to connect with professionals in your career field. The professionals who attend networking events are there to talk to people. They are interested in sharing their career experiences, talking about the latest trends, and building meaningful relationships. There are a lot of websites that list upcoming networking events, including: Meetup.com, professional associations, your school, and more. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities to network are still happening online. When life goes back to normal and you can attend networking events, bring your business card (or networking card) so you can connect with a range of people and make plans for future meet-ups.
Make connections in your community.
Do your family members, relatives, or friends know someone who works in the career field you are interested in? Or perhaps a current or past colleague at your workplace can introduce you to someone they know. Even at your school, your career advisors or professors can connect you to alumni and industry professionals. When there is a mutual connection, the professional is more likely to respond to requests for informational interviews.
Conduct informational interviews.
An informational interview is a conversation between an information seeker (you) and an information keeper (the industry professional). Informational interviews allow you to gather valuable information to aide in your career planning, discover the realities of the career field, and expand your network of contacts for future opportunities. It is important to note that an informational interview is not a job interview — you are there to learn about the industry and the experience and expertise of the professional. During the informational interview, it is not okay to ask for a job or provide your resume, unless they specifically request for it. After the informational interview, you will want to stay in touch and provide value to your connection as well.
In some industries, you may have the opportunity to volunteer to gain experience and connect further with the employees at the organization. I know people who have volunteered in a pharmacy for a few hours a week and then once they finished their pharmacy degree and certification requirements, they were hired to work at the pharmacy as a Pharmacist. Many non-profit organizations offer opportunities for unpaid internships where you can test your skills in a low-risk environment. In return, you get experience working with a team and potentially a glowing recommendation afterwards (or maybe even a job offer).
Apply for co-op placements.
This is an opportunity for students to get paid work experience with an employer. Work-integrated learning is gaining popularity due to the benefits it provides the student and the employer. Students get to learn more about the type of work they can expect to do after graduation, and employers get to ‘test-run’ a student and see if they would like to hire them permanently after graduation. At UBC, I was part of the co-op program and I had the opportunity to work with three employers in three different industries. It helped me to learn more about the different specializations in human resources and the industry that I would be interested in working in the future. Students who have co-op experience have an easier time finding a job after graduation because they already have experience compared to other new graduates.
Go to a conference.
Every industry has their own conferences where they normally invite leading professionals in the industry to present on special topics, like industry trends, challenges, and new advancements in the career field. Conferences are great for professional development so you have many motivated professionals attending the conferences. As someone who would like to learn more about the industry, it is to your benefit to attend the presentations and network with like-minded people with years of experience to share. This can open your eyes to the variety of roles in a career field and what you may be able to look forward to in your career advancement.
Learn with free online courses.
If you are in the early stages of learning about a career field, you may be wondering what you might learn if you were to go back to school or get a certification. Online education is abundant and there are many learning platforms that you can find free courses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are also offering their paid courses for free. I recently enrolled in a course about search engine optimization (SEO) so I could learn more about ranking higher on Google. Here are some free courses where you can learn about programming, marketing, graphic design, and more. You can browse the contents of the course and decide whether this is something you would like to study and potentially build a career in.