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4 Tips for Networking to Change Fields

What to do and say to make connections for a career switch

By Jayne Mattson

What to do and say to make connections for a career switch

Let’s face it; people sometimes get burned out after many years of working in the same field. 
Right now, you may be dreaming about switching to a new profession and a new industry. If that’s the case, building a new network is essential.  
Your career-switch networking strategy should start with creating a well-thought-out 30-second pitch about you. So you’ll want to develop a brief statement that summarizes what you want to do and includes an explanation of your skillset. In this personal pitch, you should explain that you’re trying to network with people from the field you want to enter.
(MORE: What to Say When You’re Networking)
This type of networking gives you the opportunity to: talk to people who know a lot about the profession you want to join and test out your ideas about your next step.
This schooling-by-schmoozing will give you a more accurate understanding of whether you're on the right track. Plus, by connecting with people in your desired field, you just might network yourself into a job.
Here are four tips on how to do it:
1. Make LinkedIn work for you. LinkedIn is the most popular business-networking tool and you should take advantage of all the functions it offers.
After reviewing the profiles of your key LinkedIn second-degree connections — the people you’d like to know — research their backgrounds. This way, you’ll be better prepared when you reach out to them for coffee or a phone conversation. To successfully build relationships with people you don’t know, remember: this process is not really about you, it’s about them.
When you send these connections an email, ask sharp, knowing questions based on their background and work experience.  

(MORE: How to Network Successfully If You’re Over 40)
Also, use LinkedIn’s “Search Group” function to see if you know someone who’s a member of a particular industry group that interests you. Then, ask if you can attend its next meeting as their guest, adding that you’ll pay if there’s an extra ‘guest’ charge. Being introduced to a new organization by someone who knows you will help build your credibility quickly and your network.

2. Attend an event related to the field you want to enter. To find appropriate events, do an online search or look in your local papers.
Before you go, figure out the top three subjects you’d like to learn more about. That way, you’ll get the most out of your networking there.
During the course of your conversations, ask the people you buttonhole what they do and where they work. Also, tell them what you’re hoping to do and ask if you could meet for coffee sometime to learn more about them and their jobs.
(MORE: The Best Ways to Work a Room for Job Hunting)
3. Attend a general business event and introduce yourself to at least three people. Be bold! To build a new network and change fields, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Read your local business journals to find upcoming, non-specific industry events such as awards dinners and general networking events.
On average, over 100 people attend these types of events and they are a great way to meet people in new industries. When you’ve found one, buy a ticket and bring a pile of business cards to the event.  
It can be daunting to attend an unfamiliar meeting alone, so you might want to bring a friend or colleague as your anchor while you work the room. Just don’t rely too much on him or her there.
4. Fine-tune your active listening skills. Often when people think of networking, they think of talking. But the best way to network is to listen.
So practice your active listening skills. Don't forget: this initial conversation is about them remembering you. One way to do that is focusing the conversation on them and then asking smart questions based on what you hear.
When You’ve Finished Networking
After networking to change fields, always follow up with an email, a handwritten note or a phone call to express the value you found in the conversation. Also, ask if there is anything you could do for them.

Building a network, after all, is about reciprocity.

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Jayne Mattson is Senior Vice President of Keystone Associates, a leading career management and transition services consulting firm headquartered in Boston, Mass. She specializes in helping mid-to-senior level individuals in new career exploration, networking strategies and career decisions based on corporate culture fit. Read More
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