How To Talk About Your Career Change – 8 Networking Tips and Scripts
Networking is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for people looking to advance or change their careers.
It brings to mind sales-y cold calls, massive networking events, and the fragile facade of pretending you’re not asking for a job when all you really want is a job.
This is because most of us have been doing it wrong.
Networking shouldn’t be insincere, transactional, or awkward. In addition to helping you gain valuable insights for your job search, career conversations can be energizing and—dare I say—enjoyable.
It’s been repeatedly shown to be easier and faster to get jobs through relationships. Yet day after day, people avoid networking and spend their time sending a stream of CVs into the Job Posting Board Vortex.
A quick scroll through LinkedIn will remind you how demoralizing the traditional job application process is. So why do we sign up for a process we know is broken, and put off the one that actually works?
We make networking so darn painful. Rather than seeing it as an opportunity to connect with other humans and gather critical job information, we see it as asking strangers for favors.
Networking Isn’t Asking Strangers For Favors; It’s About Connection
Of course it’s going to feel awkward if you call someone up and ask them for a job. So, don’t. Taking a transactional approach to any relationship is going to limit its success. Even if the person immediately agreed to give you a job, how would you even know if you actually want it?
Think of networking conversations as an avenue to find out more about the person and the organization they represent. What are their values? What’s important to them? Do they work so much they never see their own family? Do they walk the talk, or just pay lip service?
Talking to real live humans is the best way to figure out if a role or organization fits what you want—without the pressure of interviews or trying to squeeze yourself into a job that doesn’t actually match up.
Everyone has a story to tell. What's theirs? When you’re networking, lead with curiosity and enthusiasm. Why do you want to talk to this person? What’s important to you about their opinion? What do you find intriguing about them?
Let your interest in the other person guide you, seek to connect with them, and draw out their opinions to get a perspective you wouldn’t be able to come up with on your own.
If you’re not curious and excited to hear what they have to say, it's not the right person.
Sow Seeds, Reap a Harvest
Business networking can be a bit of a numbers game. But even a few strategic, thoughtful conversations will benefit you more than a bunch of transactional, surface-level exchanges.
Perfunctory palaver is exhausting and won’t bring you closer to the answers you seek. Fewer, more intentional conversations give you a chance to explore a few targeted areas really well and build stronger relationships along the way.
Somewhere along the line, "networking" became synonymous with handing out a bunch of random business cards in a huge conference room. Just the thought drains my energy. It would take me days to recover from that.
I prefer meeting cool people one-on-one and having meaningful conversations. Being selective and intentional allows me to have the deep conversations I adore and leave energized instead of depleted.
Are you scattering seeds randomly, or carefully planting and nurturing them?
Do your research, so you can take the conversation beyond the superficial. Offer value, ask smart questions, and get helpful answers as to whether this is the role/organization/career for you. (Note: I don’t mean research endlessly so you can procrastinate talking to people. I just mean do your due diligence. I see you, Researchers!)
Go for quality over quantity, and look for ways to grow the relationship. Yes, this takes time, but the results are so much better.
Resist the Urge to Resist
You resist reaching out to the people who are best placed to help you because you don't want to inconvenience them. Or waste their time. Or some other subtle yet destructive devaluing of your self-worth.
When I ask people how they’d feel if someone contacted them, they say:
“I’d feel really flattered.”
“Of course I’d talk to them!”
“I’d do whatever I could to help because I know what it’s like to be in their shoes.”
So why would you assume 99% of the population would be any different?
Follow Up and Double Down
Sometimes people don't respond right away. Stop short of second-guessing what it means for your career.
If they don’t respond to your first reach-out, try again. Vacations, sick time, getting slammed with work, and inbox overload are just some of the reasons people can inadvertently miss your email or call. Follow up.
If they don’t respond after a reasonable effort, move on.
The more conversations you have, the easier they get...and the less time you have to worry about people not responding.
Don’t Pick Your Nose Or Other People’s Brains
Many people are so concerned about the perception of “asking for a job,” they forget to mention that they’re looking for a job! They set up the conversation by saying, "I just want to pick your brain." This is neither specific nor true.
If you want people to help, you must tell them what you want.
Yes, you should strive to provide value. Yes, you should make the best use of everyone’s time. Yes, it’s okay for both parties to get something out of the conversation.
Tell them you're interested in making a career change and your timeframe for doing so. “I’m looking to make a change in the next 3-6 months, so I’m conducting some research now.”
Tell them what’s important to you. “I’m researching organizations that put their people first, and I’m intrigued by all the positive employee reviews on your website.”
Tell them your strengths. “I love recommending product improvements based on customer feedback and working closely with management to pick the best option.”
You’re not just calling for a chat. You’re not just picking their brain. You’re making a career change, and you’d love their help.
What the Heck Should I Say?
Most people really enjoy the conversations once they find a way in. So it’s really just about overcoming this mini hurdle to get to the good stuff.
Here are a few common scripts based on questions I get from clients. Use them as a starting point, then make them your own.
Script #1 – First contact with a stranger, usually a quick email or LinkedIn message.
“Hi, [name]. I’m thinking of making a career change and am researching potential roles and organizations that would be a good fit. I found you on [where/how found], and your career history looks so interesting and similar to the change I’d like to make [or other explanation for why you’re reaching out to them]. Would you be up for a 30-minute phone call or coffee? I’d love to get your opinion on [working for x organization/in y role/etc.]”
Script #2 - How do I talk to people when I don’t know what I want to do yet?
Maybe you don’t have a crystal-clear picture of what you want to do. Or maybe you’re looking for a bespoke role with a mix of responsibilities that can’t easily be summed up with a crisp job title.
Talk about what you do know. The conversations will help you figure out the rest.
“I’m looking to work for an organization that has a strong commitment to improving education [or other focus, attribute, or mission]. I’m incredibly passionate about it, so I’m looking for organizations that have roles that would allow me to use my [list 2-3 key interests, strengths, skills] to make a real difference. I’d love to get your thoughts on what it’s like to work for [organization] and any ideas you have about my particular skill set.”
Script #3 – I know I can do this job, but all my experience is in a different area.
I hear this one all the time. People know they can make a transition to a new industry/role/organization, but they struggle with how to emphasize their future potential over their past experience.
In this scenario, the following formula works great:
Your passion/interest + relevant strengths as they apply to the new opportunity + transferrable experience + where you want to expand on that experience.
“I’m passionate about educating people about nutrition. I’m pretty good at breaking down the science into actionable steps that make sense to people. I’ve done this in my current role behind-the-scenes, so I’d love for it to be the centerpiece of my next role, since I really love interacting with people face-to-face."
Don’t Go It Alone
Talking to people about what they want is what many job seekers dread most about career change, yet once they do it, they’re blown away by the results.
Every week I get messages from clients registering their amazement at how willing strangers are to help with their career once they tell them what they want.
Building relationships with interesting people will help you not only take the next step in your career but serve you beyond that. Doors will open and opportunities will appear, even ones you couldn't even have imagined.
Be strategic and intentional
Look to add value AND ask for what you want
Remember that people want to help
Lead with curiosity and enthusiasm
Once you shift what you think networking should be into what you actually want it to be, you’ll realize the real power of engaging others in helping you achieve your career aspirations.
What are the conversations you're struggling to find words for? Let me know.
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