The writing is on the wall. You need to start thinking about leaving your job. Or you have a family situation that requires you to find work in another part of the country. Maybe you’re ready to try something different. I’ve recently talked to a number of people who are faced with planning a transition because of these reasons.
When people reach out to me with career transition questions, I am often asked for tips on writing a resume or cover letter. Should you contact a head hunter or recruiter? Should you obtain additional credentials before applying for the job?
Before you think about any of these things, there is one area I recommend you spend the majority of your efforts on: Your network.
When you are looking at a transition:
Referrals are a must.
With only a resume, you can lack credibility. You could be trying to transition to a different company, industry or location. Remember that at your current job, people know you. They know your abilities, your work ethic, and your strengths. You are no longer an “entry level” professional. You have at least several years of experience and you desire a salary that reflects this. The reality is that the more senior you are, the more you are going to rely on referrals for jobs. As your pay level and responsibilities increase, hiring managers are less likely to take a chance on a complete stranger. This is especially true if they have the option to hire someone they know, or at the very least, someone they’re referred to by a trusted colleague or friend.
You want to be informed.
You need to know more about what you’re getting yourself into before leaving your current job. Talking to people who work at different companies and industries is the best way to find out. The last thing you want is to move into a team or organization that is plagued with the same problems you are trying to get away from. No workplace is “perfect” but find out as much as you can about the factors that are most important to you. Ask about what a day on the job is like, what kind of flexibility they offer, what’s required to be successful in their organization. These are things that are hard to gauge in a job description or even an interview.
So, having an effective network is critical. But the thing most people say when they think about networking is, “I know I should do it but I’d rather not.” Why is this? Some popular reasons include that they feel too busy and they don’t have time. Others can feel awkward and uncomfortable meeting new people at events.
Here are 3 tips that can help you get started:
- When it comes to networking, a little bit can go a long way. You don’t need to make networking your full-time job. Are you imagining that you will have to to join groups or associations, attend events, or write cold emails to strangers asking them out to lunch? Yes, those can be effective networking methods, but they are not the only ways. You should think about networking as something more basic than that: simply keeping in touch and being helpful. This can take many forms:
- A simple email
- A short phone call to say ‘hi’
- A personal message over social media
- A birthday card
- Forwarding an interesting article or information that could be helpful to them
- Putting people in touch that you think could benefit from knowing each other
- Do a networking task that takes less than 10 minutes. I appreciate the “takes too much time” argument. I have two young children, and the last thing I want to do is spend hours attending events in the hopes of meeting someone that will actually become a connection. My strategy is to think of ways I can stay in-touch or help someone in ten minutes. Just because it only takes 10 minutes doesn’t mean that interaction is any less meaningful. The key is to be thoughtful and genuine in your reaching out. Part of keeping in touch could be congratulating someone who just received some good news. It’s quick, but still a great way to stay connected. Send a LinkedIn message to someone you want to get to know. Again, it only takes 10 minutes, but it can be very effective. I’ve met several key people who have helped me in my business and career through LinkedIn. As a start, you could simply spend 10 minutes coming up with ideas for keeping in touch or helping someone. It’s time well spent!
- Remember that networking isn’t something you should start doing when you’re ready to transition. Your goal is to keep on-going relationships with people in your network well in advance of any “need” for your network. If you are contacting someone out of the blue and the first thing you ask is if you can send them your resume, it can indeed be awkward and uncomfortable. It would be much easier to mention your desire for a career move if you are periodically in-touch with them. So, start now! You may not know exactly what you’re going to need or ask of your connections in the future. Often times, a connection may not work out the way you expect it. It could be that those who you never knew could help you with a certain issue are actually more helpful than those who you were ‘counting on’.