Why Field Research Is Critical to Making a Career Move


This post first appeared on the Law Society blog.

One of the most effective activities when considering a career change is to gather information by speaking with a range of people.

This may seem obvious but, in my experience, it’s seldom done to any great extent.

In this article, I will explain why getting away from your screens and having real-life conversations is paramount to any successful and sustainable career change.

The Default Mode for Most Lawyers

As lawyers, when contemplating a career change, the tendency can be to focus on 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 figure out solutions to problems in our day job.

Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, this is the default because it also keeps us in our comfort zone and it’s easier to schedule in when we are busy.

I know this to be true as it’s exactly what I did when I was a lawyer considering my own career changes.

I read book after book but still felt I was on a hamster wheel making no meaningful headway.

What’s missing from most lawyers career change exploration 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.

The Benefits of Field Research

By getting out there and talking to people you will experience two key benefits, namely, gather valuable information and gain access the hidden job market.

Firstly, 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 this away from your screens. In order to most effectively set up these conversations, it is critical you communicate 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 to leverage in 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 (according to research) filled without ever being advertised to the wider job market.

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.

It’s Organic & Usually Game-changing

I cannot stress 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 change 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 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, focus on having conversations and building relationships.

Whether that’s laying the first brick in a new relationship or strengthening a long-term relationship already built and maintained over many years.

Ready for a Change?

Career Coaching for Lawyers

  • Get unstuck and start taking action on your career change.
  • Gain clarity around what you want.
  • Generate ideas and explore career options.
  • Get support and guidance from an experienced career coach and former lawyer with 25+ years experience of the legal profession.

Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus and a former in-house lawyer (Sky Sports, London & Foxtel, Sydney). With over 12 years of experience as a career consultant & executive coach, he supports lawyers with their career development & career transitions. He does this through this website, a regular email newsletter and his one to one lawyer career coaching.

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