Navigating a career change can be tricky in a number of different ways. There’s so much to learn and consider before making the leap. Getting to know people in your new chosen field (or potential field) can be an excellent way to gain knowledge about the landscape, the lingo and all the inner workings of this new world. With their help, you’ll be in a better position to make a smooth transition.
Of course, networking for career change isn’t the same as everyday professional networking. You’re going in with a different purpose, so you should approach it a little differently too. The tips below will help you make the most of your time.
Find the Gathering Places
Every different professional field has its own community and, within that, various places where people tend to congregate. Usually, this happens at industry events or meetings of a professional association or certain types of professional development events. Your first job is to find the places where your new comrades gather—then, put yourself right in the middle.
Share Your Story
Don’t hide the fact that you’re a career changer! Yes, you may feel a little like an outsider looking in at first, but once people know your story, they’ll probably be very welcoming. Explain a little about your current career, why you’re interested in this new path, and what you’ve already done to learn more about it. This will help show people you’re serious and give them some context as well.
Ask Specific Questions
Networking for career change is all about gathering information. It offers a wonderful opportunity to get an insider’s perspective on the field you’re trying to break into. Of course, the information you’re looking for will vary based on where you in your process.
If you’re in the early stages of considering the field, you’ll want to gather information to help you better understand the field as a whole and the overall requirements for success. For example, you may ask questions like:
- What is your background?
- How did you get involved in this field?
- What education or experience do you think is vital for someone breaking into this field?
- What other networking groups or professional development activities are you involved in?
- Where do you see this field going in the next few years?
On the other hand, if you’re in the process of looking for jobs in your new field, you’ll want to focus more on connecting with people at your target organizations and inquiring about the best ways to get a foot in the door.
Use the Intel
The primary purpose of networking for career change is to gather intelligence that will help you make smart decisions and, ultimately, shape yourself into a more compelling candidate in the field. Ideally, you’re looking for the kind of real-world intelligence that can’t be readily found in a simple Google search.
For example, as you learn about the skills and experience deemed most desirable by the people in the field, use that to assess your own knowledge gaps, and take their advice regarding the best ways to fill those gaps. Observe how these people speak, how they dress, how they carry themselves and interact with one another. Reflect on your own style to determine if (a) this is a natural fit for who you already are as a professional or (b) if this is something that could be a fit with a little modification on your part—and if so, what modifications are needed?
The intelligence you gather should help guide your decision-making and preparation processes. The more time you spend getting to know your new colleagues, the easier it will be to assimilate into their world and present yourself as “one of them.”
Ask for Introductions
Finally, when networking for career change, ask others to introduce you to people you should know in the field. You’re rebuilding your network here so take every opportunity you can to expand your connections. It may be especially useful to seek out those who have made a similar career transition in the past. That way, you can see what worked for them.
You may be surprised to find that most people are very eager to help career changers—especially those who love their work. They want to support and encourage others to do it too. They are often transparent and generous in sharing their experiences and wisdom. All you have to do is speak up, ask for what you need and then absorb what they offer. The knowledge you gain will be invaluable in your career transition.
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