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Why field research is critical to your next career move

23 August 2018

When you are considering a career move of any kind, one of the most effective activities is to get out in the field, talk to a range of people and gather information from them.

This may seem obvious but, in my experience, it's seldom done to the necessary extent.

As a career consultant and former FTSE 100 lawyer, I will explain why getting out and speaking with people will supercharge your career move efforts. Getting away from your screens and having real-life conversations is paramount to any successful and sustainable career move (whether a small pivot or a more wholesale career change).

The default mode for most lawyers is a search engine

As lawyers, when contemplating a career move, the tendency can be to focus on easy "desk research" – i.e. researching information in books and on the internet. We search for the answer to our question of "what else?". It's no surprise this is our default approach as this is often how we work out solutions to problems in our day job.

Yet, if we're honest with ourselves, this is often the default because it also keeps us in our comfort zone. It's easy to schedule in when we're busy and reassures us we're "doing something". I know this to be true as it's exactly what I did when I was a practising lawyer considering my own career moves. I read book after book but still felt I was on a hamster wheel making no meaningful headway.

What's missing from the career explorations of most lawyers is systematic "field research". Getting away from the desk and the screens, making new connections, strengthening existing connections and talking to real-life human beings.

Three benefits of field research

By getting out there and talking to people you will:

1.         gather extremely valuable information

2.         gain access to the hidden job market

3.         find other people to speak with.

First, by gathering valuable information you will unearth new possibilities and it will help you clarify your options. It will also help you make informed decisions and successfully plot your future career path.

You need to be curious, you need to be an explorer and you need to do much of this away from your screens. In order to most effectively set up these conversations, it is critical you communicate that you are in "research" mode not "job search" mode at this stage.

By engaging in field research you will add new connections to your network and re-invigorate some of your existing connections. The result is a strengthened and more engaged network, which will be a valuable asset for your career change efforts.

The second benefit is that the people in your network, as well as being invaluable sources of information and advice, are also your way into the hidden job market. This is the 60–80% of jobs filled without ever being advertised to the wider job market.

The third benefit is that each conversation will also potentially deliver you recommendations of other people you should speak with on a similar basis. This is something I spend time planning with my career coaching clients. It's where the magic of "6 degrees of separation" can act as a massive lever to finding work you love. Most lawyers either don't do it or try but struggle to do it efficiently on their own.

It's organic & usually game-changing

I cannot stress enough the importance of developing an action plan to arrange to have strategic conversations with people. I have seen this be a game-changer for so many of my career coaching clients. I see them time and time again bumping into their dream job as a result of a conversation they had.

Rather than sitting on our screens, researching and hoping to figure out the answer (which is hard and frustrating!), the process becomes more organic. One conversation leads to the next. One piece of information leads to your next line of enquiry.

Become one of the great explorers

So you need to adopt the mindset of an explorer. And you must resolve to get out of your comfort zone if this is a challenge for you.

In the early stages of the career change process, your focus should be on discovering more people and information, not searching for jobs. That will come in time when you have gathered more information about the different options and made decisions about where you are best matched.

For now, simply focus on having conversations and building relationships, whether that's laying the first brick in a new relationship or strengthening an existing relationship already built. You may well be surprised by where this takes you!


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society. 

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About the author

Matt Oliver is a former FTSE 100 in-house lawyer who, for the last decade as a career consultant and executive coach, has helped a wide range of lawyers take control of their careers. Matt is behind the Law Career Plus blog, dedicated to helping lawyers who wish to make a change to their careers. If you're contemplating a career move and looking for advice check out the blog.

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