Navigating the job market can be a huge pain, even at the best of times. When you decide to make a career change, or when you begin your transition from school to work, it's likely the most common piece of advice you'll receive is: NETWORK. I was certainly told this, because no amount of online job searching will match the benefits of a solid group of professionals vouching for you when given the chance.
There are countless articles on the internet offering tips for identifying opportunities in networking, and step-by-step approaches to increase your results. These can be useful, and yet they can't lay out a plan of action for each networking opportunity that comes your way. I first realized this when I was attending a symposium for student success initiatives at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. My work placement supervisor thought I might enjoy listening to the guest speakers. It turned out one of them was from the college I was attending. She was part of a cohort of senior staff and advisors to the president, and was sharing stories of students who had successfully transitioned from college to the working world. My mind began to quickly link my interest in student career transition with the kind of work she was doing. In listening to her speak I had that aha! moment, or "this is a person I need in my network!" moment. Kind of like a light bulb turning on and getting brighter as my brain started mapping connections between her and future opportunities.
There are all different kinds of network contacts you will encounter as you go through your career transition. They will each offer unique perspectives, opportunities, feedback, advice, and guidance as you transition. It's totally OK if you don't even know what you are looking for when you first start out. What's important is that you keep an open mind and inquisitive approach to everyone you meet, as you never know who may be a great addition to your team. I didn't have a plan for how I was going to network with this woman. All I had was a moment of insight into how she might have something to offer me in my career transition and development, and what I might be able to offer in return. I relied on that insight and it has taken me far beyond any step-by-step approach to networking. I find that identifying aha! moments is one of the most valuable tools in creating networks, because they initiate genuine conversations about shared interests and ideas. When this kind of connection is made with another person, the networking aspect comes more naturally.
An aha! moment is valuable because it generates a new perspective on your career interests and development. It allows you to link your thoughts and ideas others, and provide you with clarity or insight about your career pathway. However, I value aha! moments because of the way they make me feel. As a newcomer into an industry or profession, you may feel like you are reaching out to others for assistance without giving much in return. This may be true, as you are just building your connections and experience while those you meet have been working at it for years. An Aha! moment will help you realize that you too have something to offer, whether it be a fresh perspective, an interesting question, or a profound appreciation for another's work. Especially if it comes across as genuine. Remember, you will be remembered as much for your enthusiasm and interest as for what you say.
Document your aha! moments and review them on a regular basis. You will find that when you witness the growing list of connections you are making, both in meeting new people and in sharing ideas, your motivation to change direction on your career journey will be strengthened. Aha! moments aren't always easy to come by, but when we do clue in to them, they strengthen our resolve in making a career change, and transitioning from one kind of learning to another. They help us to believe in ourselves and our valuable contributions to the profession we are seeking to join.