Networking Yourself into a New Career
At least the contacts part is actually straightforward to fix once you have decided to do it. There are many ways to approach the problem and here are just six:
TELL PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR PLANS. You are much more likely to get helpful advice, hear about opportunities and make new connections if you are open about your plan. Keeping your goal secret just means that you will not be in the loop and not taken seriously. Tell your network, tell your friends, tell your family, tell the people you meet. Sooner or later you will meet someone who is either in the business or has connections there. You will probably be surprised a few times, too. That old friend you haven't ever talked to about work might know exactly who you should be talking to.
EXPAND YOUR NETWORK IN GENERAL. Attend events, be active on social networking sites and anything else that will grow your network. It doesn't matter if the new people are in the new field that interests you. Just having more connections makes it more likely that you will end up with connections where you want them. If you connect with ten people with 500 connections that means you add 5000 new people to your network; the people you are looking for might well be in those second-degree connections. Don't make the mistake of focusing entirely on people who seem closest to your goal.
LEARN FROM YOUR NETWORK. Talk to people in your expanded network because maybe somebody already works in the field that interests you or can connect you with someone who does. When you do find someone start talking to them but don't ask them for a job. Find out which are the companies to follow, who are the interesting people, the publications to read, the conferences to attend, the professional organizations to join and so on. Make sure you also tell them about your plan. Use this knowledge to grow your network further in the right direction, making new connections
FOLLOW COMPANIES, THOUGHT LEADERS IN THE NEW FIELD. Once you have identified companies and thought leaders in the new field you should follow them on LinkedIn and any other site they are active. Read the updates and start building up an awareness of what is happening in the business. This will help identify potential employers and also make it easier for you to have a conversation with people in the business. If you are going to jump from one business to another you must be sure you don't sound clueless. Lack of experience is something people can deal with; ignorance is not.
ATTEND FACE-TO-FACE EVENTS. You can meet many people through social networks but for building strong relationships quickly you can't beat face-to-face events. Attend conferences, trade shows, meetings or anything where you are likely to meet the people in the new field. There are a surprising number of conferences -- often free -- happening all the time. You need to be aware of where people go in the new field and you have to show your face there, too. Sometimes just being there and being recognized helps to break the ice with new people. Even if you haven't talked before the fact that they have seen you around means that the barrier to building trust is already falling.
BUILD MORE CREDIBILITY. If you are planning on moving into an area where you have no previous experience it can help to build some credibility in other ways because this will also help your networking. One way is to take advantage of the many high-quality online courses that are open to everyone today through sites like edX. This will not just teach you things that you should probably know, it will also demonstrate commitment, which will impress prospective employers. Consider also activities that are related to the new business. If you are moving into aviation it will help if you make the effort to get a pilots license, even if your work is not directly related to flying. Volunteering in the right places can help, too. Working as a volunteer on an indie movie is going to look good when you want to work in media. Volunteering for any professional organizations looks good on your CV and also gives you visibility.
Over the years I have known plenty of people who have succeeded in moving from one business to another, from business to academia and many other leaps. In most cases the opportunities came quite quickly when they realized that they actually did have connections in the new field, they just didn't know it. But working hard at the transition isn't going to get in the way.
More about professional networking
There's much more about professional networking in my book Payforward Networking available in both paperback and Kindle editions.
Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
Andrew Hennigan provides lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking, influencing, speaking and other communication topics. To book a session email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0046 730 894 475. You can also find out more at http://andrewhennigan.com
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