In 2008, I hired a coach to help me change careers and market my new coaching business.  “Don’t I need a website?” I asked him.  “Shouldn’t I start blogging?”  I couldn’t imagine networking without having some kind of online presence.

My coach had been in the marketing business for many years, he was a seasoned pro.  “At this point, you only need to do one thing,” he said.  “Create a business card with your contact information, then get out there and talk to people.  Tell them what you’re doing and ask them about their own needs.”

For an introvert, having to talk to people about my business sounded like a fate worse than death.  What could I possibly say, especially since my business was so new?  They’d sense my inexperience from a mile away, I thought.

My coach was right though, and my inexperience didn’t matter.  I still had to talk to people if my career change was going to be successful.  It took lots of practice (and lots of mistakes) but eight years later, I’m now much more comfortable with networking.  In my work with people in career transition, I often share my three rules of thumb for networking to make a career change, here they are:

  • Practise with friends and colleagues to build comfort and confidence.  It’s great if you know someone that can introduce you to a hiring manager or the CEO of an organization in which you have interest.  However, if you’re not yet confident in your networking skills and you approach these people too early, you may blow your chances of creating a really good connection.  Practise being in networking conversations by first talking to friends or colleagues about what you’re looking for career-wise.  They’ll be able to give you honest feedback about what’s working well and what needs improvement in your communication skills.  You can get the kinks worked out before you approach the big guns.
  • Keep the conversation focused on the other person.  A lot of people tell me they don’t know what to say when they’re networking for a new career – “do I ask them if they have a job available, or if they can introduce me to their hiring manager?”  The answer is categorically No, unless the person is someone you know very well or that you sense is actively ready to bring you onboard.  No one likes to be put on the spot and if you’re just meeting someone for the first or second time, it’s likely they need to get to know you a little better before they’re prepared to vouch for you for a job.To help build trust and inspire confidence, ask the other person questions about themselves and their work:

– What do you like about the work you’re doing?

– How did you get to be working in this position?

– What challenges have you faced?

– How do you see this industry changing?

– What suggestions would you have for someone like me, who is looking to work in a similar position?

If you haven’t discovered this already, you soon will: people love talking about themselves and how they see the world!  Just being genuinely interested in what someone else has to say can go a long way towards establishing a mutually rewarding relationship.

  •  Increase your network by one person through each conversation.  When you’re looking to change careers or bring on new clients, you always wanting to be meeting new people who can broaden your perspective and open you up to new opportunities.  At the end of each conversation, ask the other person: “Is there someone else you think I could speak to about [this type of career or career change]?”  This way, even if the other person can’t help you out, the conversation isn’t a dead-end (of course, if the other person can help or is interested, you’ve just doubled down on your networking).

Networking doesn’t come easily for everyone, however these three suggestions will get you well on your way towards making a meaningful career change.  Try not to get discouraged if a conversation doesn’t go as planned – rather, take the time to reflect on what you brought to the conversation and what you can try differently next time.  Practice makes progress!

To find out what kind of career-changer you are (which can help you identify your next steps), please read my post on: Career-Changers: What Kind Are You?