How do I find good, specific career advice?
March 20, 2013 8:34 PM   Subscribe

I am a relatively successful professional, but (like many other people), I suspect that I could be happier doing something else. I've done a lot of different things all within the same general field (software/internet/tech), and I've liked and disliked different things about each of them. I think I have some pretty awesome experience and skills in a nice variety of subjects, with some unusual combinations. What I'd like to find is someone I can sit down with, talk about what I like to do, and what I hate to do, and what I'm good at and not good at. And then have them give me advice about where I should go next in my career - what types of jobs and companies I should look at, etc.

There are a couple of ways in which I'm running into difficulty with this.

The chief issue is that I can think of a couple of people in my current company who could potentially have awesome advice for me. But going to a senior person/executive in your own company, and saying "I'm not sure I'm in the right job," has a reasonable chance of being a career-limiting move. Even if I feel close to the person and trust him, talking about this with someone like that seems unwise. Expanding it out, I could possibly talk to people in other companies. And it's probably a bit too much paranoia on my part, but I still worry that I might be limiting my options by doing so. For example, say I meet with someone and say "I really hate the scheduling aspects of project management." If a year down the road I'm desperate for a job (laid off, perhaps), I wouldn't want to apply for something reporting to that person if it required that skillset.

On the flip side, more general career counselors or career coaches don't seem to have the depth of knowledge, or understanding of the industry, to really get the subtleties of what I'm looking for (and trying to avoid). And external recruiters, while many claim to want to help you find your dream job, all really seem to be focused on making their commission by getting you hired somewhere as fast as possible.

Basically, I want someone who knows the industry inside and out (and is up to date on it, including company cultures, etc.), but has absolutely no stake or influence in hiring or firing me, now or in the future. I'm happy to pay for this person's time, but I don't want them to have any incentive other than actually helping me. Does this person exist, and if so, how do I find him or her?
posted by primethyme to Work & Money (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
- Dumb but obvious answer: ask your actual job-related questions to Metafilter. There's plenty of us software types out here.

- Lots of companies have mentorship programs where conversations between you and your mentor are meant to be confidential - seek one of those out if you can. Not to say you should slag your boss or rail against the company or anything, but it's in everyone's interest to help you find the role you're best suited for.

- You're definitely overestimating how much people at other companies will care/remember in a year, particularly if you phrase things tactfully. ("I really hate x. What should I do?" and "I prefer y to x. What should I do?" will get you about the same information.) They've all been in your shoes too and they're not going to hold it against you unless you sound like a whiner. (Some tedious things are a part of every software job - you're not gonna escape those.)

- Have you exhausted your network of friends and friends-of-friends looking for these answers? They're the ones who are least likely to hold honest questions against you.

- Unless you have a legitimate reason to believe you'll be out on the street, don't fixate on the worst-case scenario where you're scrambling desperately for work doing stuff you hate. Plan on advancing your career the way you want - deal with bad luck as it comes.
posted by UncleBoomee at 10:22 PM on March 20, 2013

Sounds like networking is going to be more beneficial for you than seeking out a professional counselor, who will probably only be able to offer you general advice about career development.

I'm not sure exactly what specifics you're looking for, but I've worked in the space you're describing for a little while and I could give you at least my own subjective view on different companies and positions in the industry. I imagine there are many others on Metafilter and similar sites that would be happy to provide a little insight in the form of a PM or email exchange. Some you may find informative, some you may not. But this is a great forum for seeking that sort of open-ended advice from a wide cross-section of the population.

I have successfully polled fellow MeFites for career advice in the past and gotten some great responses. It's amazing how generous and informative people can be when you ask pointed questions about their career. So don't be afraid to ask, even if you have to use the anonymous option.
posted by deathpanels at 11:51 PM on March 20, 2013

For the reasons you stated, as well as those of commenters upthread, you're best off doing much of the career exploration yourself. Then when you have a pretty good idea of what sorts of jobs would be a great fit for you, you can network to line yourself up for those jobs.

To do the career exploration, what you really need to know is why certain tasks appeal to you or not. That means expanding your knowledge about yourself, your strengths, your style, etc. Back in the day, when I was doing career development within a large company, I relied on the guides from The Career Development Team, and specifically this book.
posted by DrGail at 4:54 AM on March 21, 2013

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