Career changes can feel incredibly daunting. And networking for that change? Even more so. All your contacts know you for your current role and responsibilities, so how do you even begin networking effectively for your new desired role?
Like the career change itself, this particular step probably won’t be as dramatic as you might imagine (no, really). In fact, much of the networking you’ll be doing will be the same, with just a couple of exceptions—and these sometimes make things easier, not harder!
1. Let People Know
Even though many of the people in your immediate network won’t be in your target industry, you never know who might be in their networks. So let people know you’re thinking about making a change, and see if they know anyone you can connect with. (This “Help Me Find a Job” template can be easily adapted to a career-changing situation.)
Likewise with your social media network, especially if your career change is actually a fairly well worn path (think leaving your corporate job for a startup). You might just attract the attention of a recruiter and cut down on the networking you need to do.
2. Do Your Research
Even beyond your immediate network, you likely have more resources at your disposal than you realize. Before you start reaching out to people who are a little further removed from you, do your research. Does your university give you access to an alumni database? Have you searched on LinkedIn for people in your target role to check out their career paths? What are the professional organizations that are active in your area? This might not feel like networking to you, but it’s important to lay the foundation for your future efforts.
3. Find Others Who Have Done It
Once you get a sense of the different ways you’ll be able to meet more people, know that the most useful people for you to connect with are those who have already made the career change you’d like to make. LinkedIn can be particularly useful here, since you can see people’s career paths right there on their profiles. While reaching out to people who have an extensive tenure in the industry can be helpful to learn more about the trade, other recent career changers are often able to offer more strategic advice about breaking into your new field.
4. Seek Advice
Networking is hard work—especially the meeting people and talking to them bit—but magically, it’s actually easier when you’re new to an industry. Think about it this way: Networking is all about telling your story, asking questions, and getting advice. As a career changer, your story is going to be more interesting than most and, being new and all, you’ll naturally have questions and require advice. Use this to your advantage! Once you’ve looked up people to talk to, set up a bunch of informational interviews and go to town. (Here’s how to ask them and get a “yes!”)
5. Go to Industry Events
Finally, put yourself out there. Go to local events related to your industry. Professional organizations frequently have both social and professional development events—and you could benefit from both. Learn something new and create some luck for yourself. You might just end up in the right place at the right time and meet the person who ends up giving you your big break into the field.
It feels really big right now, but if you take it step by step and remind yourself to be patient, before long, you’ll be the one people reach out to wanting to learn about changing careers. Of course, you’ll still remember how intimidating it all felt and offer some words of wisdom or open a door or two. Right?
Photo of coffees courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author