Many of my clients have in common a deep dissatisfaction with their current positions and know that they need to make a change. For some of these executives, the prospect of making a career change is as unsettling as their career discontent. Mid-career change can be challenging but ultimately very satisfying for those with the courage to pursue it.

What kind of career change is right for you?

A major challenge to anyone seeking a new career is not knowing the options. Investigating career possibilities in midcareer often feels both urgent and riskier than in the early years when you were getting started. Is there a new interest that fits better into your life and who you have become? One way to explore the possibilities available to you is to use informational interviews.

What is an informational interview?

You have an interest in a field that is new to you and seems full of promise, but there is much that you don’t know. What are the significant issues; who are the thought leaders; what compensation is probable; and what is the best fit for your experience? You need the advice of people who know the answers to these questions. Informational interviewing is speaking to those people who know about the field you’re considering. Your goal is to ask the questions that matter to you. Keep in mind that this isn’t a job interview where you are trying to fit in, but rather an opportunity to learn what you want to know. Does it sound interesting, and will it lead to meaningful work that you will love?

How to prepare for informational interviews

Informational interviews will be most valuable if you are well prepared. You should know three things about yourself that will guide the questions you ask.

1. The characteristics of your ideal job.

So for the ideal job you will need to identify what matters now – same or new field? What sort of organization? Large, small, mature, or startup, the role you want to play, your ideal duties, ideal compensation, and the characteristics of a perfect supervisor. Your informational interview questions flow out of this analysis because your essential search is to identify where your ideal job exists within your new field of interest.

2. Your elevator speech – a sentence that describes what you are seeking.

Your elevator speech is a necessary step because you must be able to answer the question – “well, tell me what you are looking for?” My elevator speech is, “I help people discover the work they love to do.” A recent client’s elevator speech was “I want to use my thirty years in international development to help countries and donors to understand better how to implement successful programs on the ground.” A good elevator speech invites questions and leads the person being interviewed to share relevant people in their network with you.

3. Results you have achieved that you are proud of (4-6 examples)

The third step in getting ready is presenting your achievements in the form of interesting stories. Focus on the challenge you encountered, what you did in response and the successful outcome. This process is essential for two reasons:

  • First, it crystallizes in your mind what you have done that has merit, which is confidence building.
  • It alerts informational interviewers about your level of management experience.

Besides, who can resist a good story? Your accounts are likely to be remembered by the people you are seeing.

Clients often come to me and say that using informational interviews they have talked to a dozen or more people but are no closer to finding a job. The conversations were polite but led nowhere and left them feeling like they had missed an opportunity. The answer is almost always that they were not ready to begin because they hadn’t completed the three steps described above.

Stay tuned for my next blog: The Mechanics of a Successful Informational Interview

Peter Sherer is a nationally recognized career coach who offers clarity and confidence to mid-career and senior executives in transition. In just two short days, his rigorous assessment tools enable his clients to identify a meaningful assignment that uses all of their skills and experience. Learn more and get in touch with Peter today.