I always tell job seekers that before you kick off your networking initiative, you need to understand exactly where you are in the career transition process. This helps you know how to approach networking. Are you in the exploration phase, validation phase, or the positioning phase?
Here is a brief intro to all three. You can read more in depth on this topic in my book, From Fish Story To Success Story.
1. The Exploration Phase
When I ask people where they think they are in the process, they often tell me their career history. That’s not what I want to hear! Your history is irrelevant at this point. I want to know what your target is. But if you don’t know what your target is, don’t worry! It just means that you’re in the exploration phase. Explore in detail the possible careers/jobs that you’re attracted to. Measure each one against the question, “Does this fit what I do best?” Or more importantly, “Is this a job that would give me energy and where I can showcase my passion?” Never measure against the question, “Are there any openings?” or “Do I have the abilities to do the job?” Explore industries to see what fits YOU, your skills, culture, energy and maybe even a new passion you’ve recently discovered. How should you explore? By asking friends you know in industries that are relevant to what you’re interested in. Ask them who they recommend you talk to. Simply ask your contact to do an e-mail introduction or call the potential contact. Make sure you are clear about the expectations of what you would like to cover in the potential meeting and why. You want to learn as much about the niche/target as possible before you commit to it!
2. The Validation Phase
If you feel pretty confident you know your strengths and have chosen a clear career target to investigate, then you’re in the validation phase. The key here is finding more information about your target by further reaching out to people currently doing the job you want to have. Again, you’re still trying to answer any questions you may have about the industry. But at the same time, you’re building a foundation of people you can later reach out to if you come across a position. They may have a contact and be able to introduce you through the back door! Not to mention that you’ll impress them with the fact that you clearly know what sets you apart and can articulate the value you bring. You’ll be in their mind if they expand their department, or the next time they hear of an opportunity!
3. The Positioning Phase
This stage helps us get real. For example, you may determine the niche you think you’ve carved out doesn’t have a lot of potential. Once you’ve picked a target, you need to identify company targets and see how many positions each target company has in the geographic area you seek. For example, if you want to be a graphic designer in St. Louis and there are only 50 graphic designers in the city, then positioning yourself successfully in this field – realistically – may take pretty long. But if there are 200 graphic designers in the area, there’s going to be a lot more movement. More re-organizations. More turnover. More opportunities for you.
In this phase you will meet with the hiring Manager/Director/VP/CEO and position yourself as the expert – the one who can be the aspirin to their headache.
So, which phase are you in?