Networking When You're Making A Career Change

illustration of four women talking

There are all kinds of reasons for wanting to make a pivot professionally. Feeling uninspired, wanting a new challenge or even getting the courage to go after the job you’ve dreamed of but always thought was too impractical. For many, it’s their role as a parent that pushes them to make the move in their career. 

Becoming a parent creates a whole new layer of responsibility, stress and purpose in someone’s life. All of these things can significantly impact how you feel about your job. An overly-stressful job that you were managing before may suddenly become too much combined with family stress. Or, maybe your kids have caused you to step back and consider whether or not you even enjoy your job, because if having it means being away from your children it should be worth the sacrifice. Not to mention, spending thousands of dollars on childcare so you can work in a job that you don’t enjoy isn’t exactly ideal. 

Whatever the reason for wanting a change, actually making it happen can take some time. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to just hop from one industry or role to something entirely different without any kind of experience or extra help. In addition to finding ways to boost your resume for the job you want, you’ll also need to do some networking with people who can help you get ahead in your new direction, and ultimately succeed. 

Versions of a Career Pivot Could Include a variety of points

The different versions of a career pivot

Same job, new industry 

Take accounting, for example, it’s a niche job category that can be done in basically any industry. However, if you’ve spent your entire career as an accountant for a small retailer, switching over to a job managing profit and loss analyses for a pharmaceutical company is a big jump. You might have the skills necessary, but not the industry experience, so you have to find ways to get your foot in the door. 

New job, same company (and industry) 

How easy or difficult this pivot is depends a lot on the size of your organization. Let’s say you work in vendor management for a global corporation, but you’re getting burnt out and would like to move into another vertical like marketing, your company-specific experience will benefit you, but you still have to convince the marketing department that you can do a job that, on paper, you might not seem qualified for.

Totally new job, totally new industry

This is when you basically want to start from scratch. You’re looking for something entirely different than what you have experience in. This is likely the most difficult kind of career pivot, though definitely not impossible. You’ll really need to rely on networking in this situation. 

Shift from regular employee to freelance or consulting 

Here, you want to keep doing what you’ve been doing, but you want to do it on your own terms. This is absolutely doable, but you will need clients in order to be successful. You’ll have to grow your business through referrals and word of mouth, and the best way to do that is through a network. 

Getting started with networking

Your specific strategy will depend a lot on what kind of pivot you’re hoping to make but, regardless, you’ll need to start making some contacts to help you get to where you want to go. Someone in your network might be able to hand-deliver your resume to a hiring manager or they could introduce you to a potential first client. The wider your network, the more opportunities you’ll have to make your transition successful. 

📖 Read more: Start building your professional network right now with these tips.

Work your way outward

Your network starts with the people closest to you; you never know what kind of contacts they have that they could connect you with. Chat with your close family and friends first, then branch out a little more to your current and/or past colleagues (if appropriate) and acquaintances. Basically, anyone you have a first-hand connection to should be included in your initial outreach. 

Step out of your comfort zone 

Once you’ve tapped your closest network, it’s time to start branching out to people you have some kind of association with. Connect with some people from your alma mater, join some career or industry-specific online groups, and attend live and virtual networking events. 

Ask for referrals

Maybe your co-worker knows a person who works in the department you’re hoping to transition into at your company or you have a friend working at a company in the industry you’re trying to get into. Ask your connections to introduce you to their network or refer you for a job. 

Remember proper etiquette

With networking, you really want to be sure you’re keeping things professional and polite, because a major misstep has the potential to create a ripple effect through your contacts because of the many connections within your network. Be courteous, appreciative and have realistic expectations of the people you’re asking for help. 

  • Do ask your connections to introduce you to people within their network, but don’t bug them about it and always accept “no” for an answer
  • After a cold reach-out to a potential new contact, give them two weeks to respond to you before following up, and don’t follow up again if you don’t hear from them after that
  • If you’re making a major pivot, express interest in learning from one of your contacts or ask for some pro-tips rather than requesting high-level introductions if you don’t have enough experience or knowledge to make the leap quite yet
  • Use a cold reach-out as an opportunity to simply introduce yourself to a potential client or contact; it might get you further than if you come out of the gate asking them for some kind of favor

What to expect next

Managing your expectations is always important, especially if you’re really eager. Growing your network, gaining new experience and ultimately making a big career shift will take some time, so you’ll need to be patient. The exact timeline for all of this, again, depends on your goal and how much of a pivot you’re trying to make. 

In general, give new contacts a few weeks to respond to you. Once they do respond, understand that you might need to build some kind of relationship with them before you ask for some kind of favor, like an introduction or referral, or they could ask you to do some prep-work on your own, like taking courses or obtaining specific certifications, before they’re willing to help. Expect to spend at least a year growing your network and figuring out what you need to do to successfully make this pivot, and understand that the bigger the leap the longer it will likely take.

Don’t fear the work

Making a big career pivot isn’t easy, and when you look at it from the starting line it can seem really overwhelming. Don’t get discouraged, though. Remember, all of this effort is to get you a happier professional life. Having to work really hard for one year is still preferable to spending the next several years in a career you’re unhappy with. 

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