The concept of finding your own North Star has been coined by life coach Martha Beck. Just as explorers and mariners determine their direction by using the North Star as an anchor in the northern sky, when there are no other landmarks in sight, Martha believes that the same relationship exists between you and your right life. Your potential for happiness sits inside you just as the North Star sits in its unaltered spot.
“Dad, John Turner is coming to Dunedin. Richard is having a meeting with him and he said he can introduce me. What should I do?”, I said in a panicky voice over the phone.
I was in the middle of my Masters project at university. My supervisor Professor Richard Lawrence had been John Turner’s supervisor back when he did his PhD 25 years prior. John was the current CEO of the New Zealand branch of a multinational pharmaceutical firm.
I knew I wanted to work at a pharmaceutical company when I graduated because it was in the area I’d studied, pharmacology. As an ambitious 23 year old, my career values included a great salary, travel, the opportunity to be promoted and fringe benefits such as company car and mobile phone. They were important to me at the time but I was to find out a few years later they were not my soul’s values. They were not going to lead me towards my life’s purpose, my ‘North Star’.
But, here was my opportunity for what I wanted at the time.
“Liz, just ask him this question: ‘John, I wondered if you could tell me about why a career in the pharmaceutical industry is worth pursuing and also ways to enter it?’ and see what he says. Don’t ask for a job”.
I didn’t know I was doing it at the time, but I had what career coaches call an informational interview. This is something that I encourage my clients to do when they are exploring their options and I’m amazed by how few people do them. So many people don’t even know what they are.
An informational interview is a chance to learn about a specific job, industry, or organisation. You’re not asking for a job or a connection and if you are then you’re doing it wrong. Basically, you’re sitting down over coffee and having an informal chat with someone about their work or industry.
The point is to gather information so you can make well-informed career decisions. This is a great way to learn about how to enter into a particular industry, develop in your current one or maybe you just want to look at your options. You can also do informational interviews over the phone, through video conferencing or email.
I believe it to be one of the most important tools for testing out whether you’re heading towards your North Star, they are the secret sauce for finding and creating work that fits.
Let’s say you went to university to study dietetics but have a hunch you’d rather work in marketing and you have no clue how to make that transition. Or perhaps you have a Bachelor of Commerce and know there are a myriad of options you could choose from but overwhelmed with the choice.
Talking to real people doing real work in an area you think you might be interested in (or one you’re not even sure about because you know so little about it) is the best way to get good information. It’s better than reading books or Googling (though those things can be helpful too). But talking to real people about real work gets you real information — the kind of information you need before you can make a decision.
Try this approach:
1) Make a list of careers you think you’d love to be doing. Not sure? Read my previous article on Soul Searching.
2) Write down all the questions you’d like answered, such as; What is your typical day like?, What do you like/dislike about your job?, How did you come to work in this field? Check out example questions here Berkeley University Informational Interviews Include lots of specific questions about the things that matter to you, your values.
3) Ask your network for anyone they know doing the career you want. If you don’t get any leads from this step, try going online to industry associations or check with your alumni association.
Informational interviews are important when trying to find out the type of career you’d like to pursue. They are your chance to discover if it’s right for you before deciding to spend money on education, quit your job or follow a particular career path.
One of two things can happen during an informational interview:
1) You get validation that the path you’re going down seems to be a good fit. This job or company you’re interested in lines up with what you’re looking for as well as meeting your needs, values, and preferred way of working;
2) You find out that this job or company is definitely not what you’d like to do or who you’d want to work for – very different from what you thought it was. You may have dodged a bullet.
Both of these outcomes are fantastic ‘reality testing’. More information means better decisions.
So I did exactly that. John told me some really cool things about his company and the pharmaceutical industry and I found out they ticked all the boxes for what I was looking for at the time. He suggested I visited him at his office in Auckland when I was next in town - which I did - and then landed a sought-after grad role at his firm and was the envy of all my fellow Masters students. They couldn’t believe I’d pulled that off – and neither could I!
Research and reality testing our way towards finding the right career path is the key to knowing if a career is right for you. An informational interview is a great way to do this, helping you navigate your way towards your North Star by following your soul’s breadcrumbs. What you find out in the informational interviews are the breadcrumbs. Be alert for what your inner compass is telling you, listen carefully, notice your feelings and reactions.
For more information about other ways to research whether a career path is right for you, download my free e-book “3 steps to making a good career decision” by signing up to my newsletter here