Ten Networking Tips For Career Changers
Career changers will get more traction from networking because they can directly tell people their story, rather than hanging out a resume and hoping to get a call.
Networking provides that essential person-to-person contact. Therefore, if you want to change careers, you will have to put yourself out there.
Here are ten ideas for networking, specific to career change.
1) Well-meaning and normally supportive people might not be supportive of your career change.
Networking scares people, so to ease into it. Many career changers lean on people they know. This could be a good way to practice networking, but it may not help you change careers. Career change scares people, and they can project their fear onto you.
2) Some of your family and friends may not want you to change and therefore won’t be helpful.
On a related note to the above, even your family and friends might not be helpful. The people who are with you now benefit from the old you and may prefer you to stay exactly how you are. So they may not share leads or good advice, or even encouragement. You may not necessarily want to network with those closest to you.
3) Career changing requires a larger community, because you are expanding into a new area.
It’s more likely that your career change network will be new people, strangers to you now. From a practical standpoint, this is because you’re entering a new area – a new industry, a new role, a different sector (public, private, nonprofit).
But an added benefit of networking with strangers is that they don’t know you from your old career. It will be easier to see you in the new career because they don’t have preconceived notions.
4) If you want a cold contact to respond, explain why you are reaching out to them and not someone else.
You need to resolve that you will reach out and make new contacts as part of networking for career change. The best way to do this is by getting referrals from people who know you, so it’s a warm lead.
But you won’t get referrals to everyone you need to meet. You’ll need to cold contact people. A key ingredient to a successful cold contact is making sure the cold contact knows why them and not someone else – otherwise, they will just not respond, assuming that you have lots of other people to ask.
5) Don’t get defensive if a friendly contact needs more information before helping you.
Just like cold contacts need more information, even your warm contacts may need more information.
As a career changer, you’re entering an area that you’re not (yet) an expert in. Your friendly contact knows you’d be a great referral for one thing (your old career), but now needs to be confident that you’re still a good referral for this other thing (your new career).
Information about what you’re doing, what you’re learning, what your objectives are, and what you need are necessary for cold and warm leads to buy into what you’re doing.
6) Don’t assume that if people want to help, they will offer. You have to ask.
In addition to information about what you’re doing, be prepared to ask for what you need. Don’t make your network guess what would be helpful. Don’t assume your network knows you even want them to act – they may think you’re just looking for encouragement!
7) You want to be mindful of oversharing, especially in the beginning of your career change.
While I’m a proponent of letting people know about your career change, you want to be thoughtful about how much and what you share.
You don’t want to come across too much as a newbie, because then people won’t feel like you’re ready to be introduced to their contacts or leads. You don’t want to bad-mouth your past career, because you don’t want to alienate people who might still be there. You don’t want to get into all the emotional details of the career change – the roller coaster journey! – because then you’ll sound like you’re all over the place.
Remember that networking for career change is still a professional activity, so you want people to know you mean business.
8) Why change careers? Focus on the pull, not the push.
One way to share without oversharing is to focus on the pull over the push. The pull is the new career and why you’re excited by it and what you’ve been doing to change in this direction. The push is the old career and why you’re leaving it.
Push talk is negative talk. Push talk is oversharing. People don’t need to know that. Instead, pull them into your vision for your new career.
9) With career change, market feasibility is as important as personal meaning.
While pull talk can get people excited for you about your new career objective, you still need to convince them you’re right for this career (especially if you want them to refer you or even hire you). It’s not just about what you want; it’s also what the market will bear.
Are you able to perform in this new career? Is landing this type of job something you can feasibly do? You need to prove to people you have the right skills and expertise, not just the desire.
10) Recruiters need to be convinced first and foremost that you have already changed.
When networking with recruiters (whether exploratory meetings or official job interviewers), your career change journey is irrelevant. You need to be at the end of your journey and have already arrived in your new career with all the skills and expertise you need to do the job.
How can you show that proof when you haven’t worked in your new career? Full-time, paid experience is not the only form of proof -- think consulting, volunteering, or new projects within your old employer.
I blog about my career change after 40. Costa Rica figures prominently in my next step, and networking paved the way for me to get established there. Networking will help you shortcut your career change, as well.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine specializes in career change. She is the creator of online courses -- Behind The Scenes In The Hiring Process and Making FIRE Possible – and is the author of Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career.
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