I suggest finding groups online and then meeting people in person; just like online dating, there is no substitute for personal connection. I like Meetup.com's philosophy: "use the internet to get off the internet." You also don't need the education or training required for a career to meet people working in that career. In fact, talking with people about how to choose the right education option before you do it, would be ideal. Maybe a B.A., professional degree like an MBA, or higher degree isn't necessary for what you want to do – if not, save yourself money and time! And most people will like to talk about themselves and the career they've chosen.
For example, Seattle has an excellent web portal for finding networks in different careers, called the Seattle Networking Guide. If I was interested in graphic design, under the “Arts and Culture” section I would find a link there to the Seattle Graphic Artists Guild, which holds monthly networking lunches. I would go to one, meet people and start doing casual informational interviews. I might get some business cards for potential future job search contacts if I ultimately choose this career path.
How do you find these groups? Here are four tips:
- Do an online search for a directory of networking groups located where you live. For example, try “seattle networking groups”
- Narrow your search to the career you are targeting for research (e.g. graphic artist). Be specific in your search terms. For example, “seattle graphic design networking” turns up “seattle web design organizations” and other interesting options. Similarly, a “chicago graphic design networking group” search will lead you to an active Meetup group.
- Try other sources for career specific groups: Meetup, Craigslist (narrowed to your city), Yahoo, MSN or Google groups, The Riley Guide, etc.
- Attend at least one group event and get more suggestions of other groups. If you're not able to find more than one group related to your career option or you don't like the people at one group, ask for other suggestions and recommendations.