Activating Your Network
You know people. They know people. And those people know people. When you are looking for a new career or a new job, it's time to activate your network.
I know, networking isn't natural or comfortable for everyone. And reaching out to strangers you don't know may feel even more uncomfortable. Here are three ways to activate and leverage your network:
1: Know what you want. Have your pitch ready for every possible conversation. Whoever you talk to will ask you, "What are you looking for?" If you don't know, they won't know how to help you and you have wasted your phone call to your contact. An example of what you want could sound like this:
"I'm interested in a Director or more senior level role in Product Marketing in the [name it] industry at either a start up or a smaller stable company. I really love to be able to bring value in multiple areas and I have found that you can bring both tactical and strategic value to smaller companies."
"I've gained a number of transferable skills to work in multiple sectors such as A, B, and C. Therefore I'm looking for a technical leadership position of VP and above."
That said, if you truly don't know what you want to do and are considering new careers then meet and greets are the way to go.
2. Take Meet & Greets. Reach out to specific individuals either via email (if you have their email address) or LinkedIn messenger. Your goal is to talk to at least one person in each career or industry who appears to be doing what you are considering as a career choice. Some will respond. Some won’t respond. That’s okay! Keep trying!
Example message to a stranger:
I noticed you are a leader in <Name of Field> and I am interested in transferring my skills and capabilities into <Name of Field>. I am hoping you would be willing to spend 20 minutes with me discussing your career trajectory and what it takes to be successful in <Name of Field>.
Please let me know if there is a time you may be available to speak. My contact information is below.
Thank you! <Your name>
The Conversation: Once you have set a time to speak, below is a road map for the conversation. The goal is to be as organic as possible (though of course it will be uncomfortable at first). Remember, someone is taking time out of their day to talk to you – the more they talk, the better the conversation.
Say hello! Ask casually how his/her day is going and thank the interviewee for taking time to talk to you.
Briefly introduce yourself, why you reached out and how you found them:
o Are you interested in knowing more about the industry/the interviewee’s career path?
o Was it a random inquiry?
o Did you have something in common such as graduating from the same college or working at a former workplace you interned or volunteered at?
If the conversation starts flowing organically, stay in the moment without a specific agenda. Reminder: You are trying to make a “connection” and build a relationship. Some discussions will be a “one and done” and some will lead to long-term mentorship or advice.
Consider asking the interviewee if he/she has any questions for you before starting with your own questions. This step isn’t necessary but may be useful if there is any “suspicion” as to why you have so many questions. Just be honest; you are researching the skills needed to be successful in the field and seeking advice for your own trajectory by learning from their success.
Ask questions. Have a list of potential questions but don’t ask them all because it’s best to keep the conversation organic and flowing. Examples include:
o I’d love to hear how you got into X (the field they are in today)?
o How did you decide to work at X company?
o What makes your job in your field unique compared to other people in your field (e.g. sales in medical device versus sales in another field)
o What was your journey like from graduating college to where you are now?
o What hard and soft skills do managers look for to be successful in your field?
o Do you need higher education such as a Masters or PhD or MBA to enter/be successful your field?
o Is there one specific skill that is a “must have” in your field?
o What kinds of decisions do you make on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?
o Is the job more tactical or strategic?
o Where do people start in this career and how does their career progress?
o Who is this career NOT for? (Or what type of person is not successful in this field?)
o What is it about (insert profession) that excites you the most?
o What is the most challenging part of your job?
o What is one thing about this career that people from the outside don’t know?
o What skills do you think were necessary to move up in your career?
o If you talking to a people manager: What do you look for when hiring someone on your team?
o How have you seen your field change in the time you’ve been in it?
o Does economic uncertainty change the work in this field?
o I’m trying to wrap my head around “workplace culture.” Have you noticed different cultures in the various jobs you’ve had, and can you describe them?
o In your entire career, is there a company culture you liked the best and why?
o What advice do you have for someone like me trying to break into this field?
o What is the best piece of advice you received from a former mentor?
o Is there something you know now that you wish your younger self knew then?
After your conversation: Don’t forget to send a thank-you note via email. Someone just took precious time out of their day to give you advice. You are thanking them for their time and expertise. Write that you will stay connected as you progress in transferring to a new career or finding the next job and then do just that. Stay connected even if you decide from the conversation the interviewee's career is not for you.
Pro Tip: Your interviewee should be doing 90% of the talking. You should be doing most of the question asking. Keep in mind every meet/greet is an “interview” of you too, so be prepared to explain in one sentence where you are in your career and why you are looking for a new role.
Pro Tip 2: Take notes!
3. Expand your network. Ask every person you talk to if they can introduce you to two more people for additional meet/greets. This is how you widen your network. Networks are how you get jobs. Applying online will only help you enter the black box of the applicant tracking system. Knowing someone who can then flag your resume after you've applied online will help your resume be seen. It only takes one person to know of a job opening or know someone who knows someone who knows of a job opening to help you land your next role.
Another way to expand our network is to set up a group chat or group meeting where everyone looking for a job meets and discusses potential openings. You may think, "Why would I want to compete for a job with everyone in the group?" Remember, not everyone is the same level as you or will be going after the same jobs. Some jobs are onsite; some are remote. Some people are in industries you may not be interested in. Leveraging others' eyes and ears can help you learn about a job you didn't know existed.
Meeting new people and learning about their careers is a way to network without standing in a big room with a lot of people you don't know. And, every meeting could be the potential break you are looking for. Take all meetings seriously and be prepared as if you are interviewing for a job. Your first impression could lead to a connection that connects you with your next opportunity.