More people change their career fields than you may think. According to a recent survey from EdX, 29 percent of respondents changed their fields since graduating from college. Most who did so were seeking higher-paying jobs or were interested in other areas they may not have known about previously.
Still, even more respondents – about a third – were considering a career change but hadn’t taken the leap. There could be many reasons for this hesitation, but certainly one of them is the daunting task of creating a professional network in an entirely-new field.
Ivy Exec recently hosted Marcia Ballinger, the head of the civic executive search firm Ballinger|Leafblad in a webinar called “Networking for Success.” Marcia shares her networking tips compiled in her book The 20-Minute Networking Meeting with us.
If someone wants a job transition, Marcia suggests they should spend 80 percent of their job transition time and effort on networking. According to her, networking is the most likely way someone will find their next position.
If you’re interested in shifting career areas, however, finding contacts in a new field shouldn’t hold you back.
Here, we’ll share advice for successful networking in a field outside of your current one.
Identify Future Peers With Whom to Connect
LinkedIn is your best tool for finding (perhaps secondary) connections in the field you want to enter. Simply searching for contacts on LinkedIn and then cold-emailing them isn’t enough, however. Research their backgrounds, career paths, and training to identify connections who will be best able to answer your questions.
Reach Out to Someone You Are Connected With In Some Way
It’s always easier to secure a networking meeting if you’re connected to that person in some way. If someone has referred you, Marcia recommends referencing that person at the beginning of your introductory email.
“Networking is about upholding the relationships of others,” she explains.
If you don’t have a referral, then it’s a good idea to attend a professional association meeting and put yourself out there in meeting people. Forbes recommends connecting with industry groups to ask if you can attend their next meeting. Alternately, you could see when the group’s next event will be and decide to attend either a live or virtual event.
If this is how you met this person, then you can remind them of the conversation you had when you spoke informally before.
Other ways of connecting could be reaching out to someone who went to the same college or graduate school you did, or even someone you know in an informal setting like a musical group or sports team.
When you do secure a networking meeting with someone, Marcia recommends asking their advice on who else you could contact in the field.
You could ask:
- How might I expand my network?
- I see you’re a member of [board or group]. Do you know of anyone else who would connect with me?
- Is there anyone else at your company you suggest I connect with?
Be Selective in Reaching Out for Informational Interviews
At these beginning stages, it’s a good idea to identify three to six key contacts. These are the folks who are doing exactly what you want to do in the field and perhaps may have taken a similar non-traditional path into the profession. Don’t spam everyone who might be relevant; this makes it seem like you’re just reaching out to anyone without discretion or research.
Marcia recommends asking for a short meeting of no more than 20 minutes. “Give them several weeks to schedule the meeting,” she says. Let them set the timeline – be as flexible and open to their schedule as possible. Also, go to their office or schedule the virtual meeting yourself. The idea is to make the meeting as simple as possible for your contact.
Outline and Lead the Meeting
When a contact agrees to meet with you, take charge of that meeting. That means that you should know what information you’re seeking; perhaps you want to know about the career ladder you climbed, or the job search they conducted.
At the beginning of your meeting, share what you want to discuss and preview the purpose of your time together – what do you want to know?
Follow Up With Your Contacts
You may feel that this kind of networking is asking too much of a favor of your contact. But the idea is that networking is a two-way street – aim to give them something back!
“[Whenever I network with someone] I want to feel like I’m giving – the other person likes it too,” Marcia says. “Always ask, how can I help you in return?”
Few networkers ask this question, Marcia says, so anyone who does stands out in a positive way.
Entering a new field can feel a bit like fumbling in the dark. Creating a network of people to light your path is instrumental to making this career change. Remember, if you find the right contacts, they’ll be excited to share their journeys and tips for success. What’s more, if you spark their attention, they may even direct you towards your first job.