On a recent trip to New York City I walked by Cartier, Louis Vuitton and other high-end shops with gorgeous window displays. I loved seeing the edgy fashions, the elegant accessories and the artful way in which they were featured. Even if the bling featured in the window was out of my price range, there was no harm in looking.
That’s exactly what I tell my coaching clients who are contemplating new careers. “Window shopping” is the first and perhaps one of the most important steps of a career transition. What is it that you want? What speaks to you? What makes your heart go pitter patter?
Unfortunately, the first impulse of some people who are thinking about a career change is to go online and begin applying for jobs that may or may not fit within their wheelhouse. They see a job that catches their fancy and think, “Oh, what the heck,” and proceed to fill out the [annoying and time-consuming] online form. Then they end up discouraged when they don’t hear back from the company. The “throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks” strategy rarely works and more often results in being discouraged, frustrated and even depressed.
Why not start out by “window shopping?” Think about it: when you’re window shopping, you don’t even go inside the store. You don’t have to fend off intrusive sales people. You don’t even have to try anything on yet! You’re just looking.
Here are some ideas for how to apply the window shopping technique to a career transition, even if all you’re doing is anticipating the next step for you within your current organization:
- Take the time to look around. Who (or whom) do you admire? Who is doing something that looks like fun? This doesn’t require any commitment on your part other than stopping to look up from what you’re doing to notice the world and the people around you.
- Press your nose against the glass. This requires you to take a closer look. What is it about that job or company that appeals to you? What is it that caught your eye? Is it the way the people in the company relate to each other, the way they dress, the way they reflect the company’s values? Try to determine what exactly attracted you to the company or position.
- Do a little research. Before you venture in, go online–not to apply for a job but to learn more about the company. Who are their leaders? Visit their “In the News” section and see what new people and innovations they are sharing with the marketplace. Notice if their website is up-to-date. Look beyond the mission statement to see if they are an organization that supports its mission with action.
- IF you’re intrigued, venture on in. Just as you would step into the store if the window display pulled you in, you can venture into a company in a variety of ways. First and foremost, find out if you know anyone who works there. Use your Circles of Gold®, AKA your network, to learn more about the company. If you don’t know anyone off-hand who has a connection to the company, turn to LinkedIn to see if you have any 1st or 2nd degree connections with ties to the company. While I believe networking is intensely personal and a one-to-one phenomenon, I do value LinkedIn as a robust engine that can streamline your research and allow you to expand your networking activities.
- Choose to buy. Only after you do your research and make connections can you decide if this might be the right fit. Hopefully your connections can introduce you to the company in a way that distinguishes you from the other online applicants. Don’t ask people to forward your resume–that just makes them feel like a courier rather than a trusted colleague. Instead, ask them for their ideas, opinions and recommendations about the company and about the job you’re interested in. If possible, ask them for an introduction to the hiring manager for an informational interview. Then you can make an informed choice about whether the job is one you’d like to explore. An application is just a message that says “I’m interested in this job,” not “Hire me!” It’s simply the beginning of a conversation.
Think of the Internet as one big beautiful window display, providing information that helps you decide if you want to go in and try something on. Like any informed consumer, you want to do your research before you buy. That way, no one can sell you a bill of goods–and you won’t wake up with buyer’s remorse.