Resources for Career Brainstorming

It’s Monday, so I’m guessing you’re as braindead as I am. But when you’re job hunting or career planning, you still need to be working on your career, even when you don’t feel like it. So it’s a good day to take on something easy, like brainstorming. Brainstorming is a good way to make use of your time on days when you’re feeling sluggish or caffeine-dependent.  Like, say, Mondays.

How Brainstorming Can Benefit Your Career

Career brainstorming can help you no matter what career stage you’re in. When you’re looking for your first job or considering a career change, brainstorming can uncover new job families to explore. And when you’re in a career but feeling stuck at your current level, it can help you find professional development options you might need to consider in order to advance. Or when you’ve found a job you’d like to apply for, it can help you figure out how to identify and describe your transferable skills on your resume.

Let’s take a look at some of my favorite career brainstorming tools.

Try O*Net

One of my favorite sites for all of those circumstances is O*Net. It’s a gianormous database of occupational titles and descriptions. Think of it like a library taxonomy of jobs, a hierarchical organization of skills mapped to jobs and jobs mapped to occupations. One way to use it is to use the Occupation Search to look up occupational families that are centered around that. I just searched “adult learning” and found 101 occupations. Then when you click on the occupational family, you get a summary report, broken up by skills, knowledge, tasks, abilities, and so on. These summary reports provide insights and inspiration for how to phrase transferable skills on your resume or cover letters when you’re looking to break into a new career path.

Not inspired enough to come up with a keyword? I gotcha. It’s Monday, so let’s take an even easier path. Try browsing by a job family to head from the top down. From there, select your favorite job to get to the summary report. See those little tiny links under the “View Report” heading at the top (“Tasks, Technology Skills…” and so on)? You can get to Education, Credentials, Related Occupations, and so on. This is a terrific resource for getting to know the general requirements, salaries, and general outlook for that type of job. This can be key data to gather when you’re in an exploratory phase, looking for careers to consider. 

Know a Job You’re Interested In? Arrange to Talk to Someone

Some days, even doing online research is just too taxing. That’s cool. you can still make strides towards your career goals, and here’s one super easy way to do it. If there’s a specific line of work you’re interested in, find someone who works in that and email them asking for an informational interview. All you have to do today is find them and email them with your request, and then you can go back to…whatever it is that will make your Monday less painful. You can even prepare your questions later. But there’s some important principles to keep in mind when you’re requesting an informational interview.

You’re asking for their time, out of their busy day. So you need to make it as easy for them as possible to do an interview with you. Here are some ground rules for requesting an informational interview:

  1. Ask for no more than 30 minutes of their time.
  2. Explain your ask clearly. “I am currently a Graduate Teaching Assistant and looking to explore careers in academic libraries. I was wondering if you might be available for a 30 minute discussion, either by phone or in person, within the next 3 weeks?”
    • If in person, you come to *them*.
  3. Prepare a bit (1-2 sentences) about your career interests and background to either include in this introductory email, or to share when you meet.
  4. Under no circumstances should you include your resume.
  5. If they decline, ask if they can suggest someone else.

As soon as you hit send, begin to brainstorm and revise your questions. You need to do this in advance to not waste their time and expertise.

I’ll give you one more brainstorming activity you could do if both online searching and sending an email are too much to bear today.

Read and Reflect

So many of us in the throes of career transitions are stressed out, and rightfully so. But you really need to take the time to think about your career plans to make your next career move the right one, to land in a job that’s right for you. So the easiest way to gather inspiration is to read and reflect on your career. It’s important to take the time to contemplate what you need and want. One caveat, though: I think alot of us drag this process out, out of fear of making a “bad” decision or out of fear of the unknown. So you do need to put limits and not find yourself a year from now saying to yourself “I may not have found a job yet, but that’s because I’m still brainstorming!” So whether it’s 3 months, 6 weeks, or 4 weekends in a row, whatever it is, you do need to make yourself accountable and not delay reflecting on and continuously revising your plan. But brainstorming and formulating a solid career plan is, itself, career planning and taking action on your career!

I’m a big fan of design thinking when it comes to careers, to help coach people to find jobs and work that matter and that work for their lifestyles and needs. So if you need some inspiration in this area, here’s a great series of posts on applying design thinking to your career plans.

Whew! That was hard work, especially for a Monday. Pat yourself on the back for doing some hard brainstorming work; it is a necessary and creative part of devising your career strategy.