7 Simple Steps to "Networking" Before a Career Change

Jessica Gaffney  by Megan Ambrose

Jessica Gaffney by Megan Ambrose

by Jessica Gaffney, Career contributor

Since I started Pro Mama over a year ago, I am often asked for career advice. The most common questions are:

-How do I find a job that lets me balance my career and motherhood?
-How do I transition to a different career or industry?
-How do I rejoin the workforce after taking time off?
-How do I find a job that is meaningful to me?

As a professional and mother of two, I have asked myself all these questions, and as a result of my experiences, I have come to realize that there is one consistent and effective strategy for navigating work-life changes.

The strategy is…talk to people. A fancy word for it is “networking,” and fancy doesn’t always mean good. You might feel intimidated by the term networking or you may dread doing it. For me, the word “networking” feels formal, disingenuous, and not very kind. It can also be the last thing you want to do when you feel overwhelmed by motherhood. The good news is that it doesn’t have to feel that way. Promise.

When I’m asked for advice, I share a simple approach for talking to people that is easy to execute and will certainly help you to find your way - which I’m sharing below. It involves small steps, organization, and curiosity. It also involves patience and an understanding that finding a career that you love may take a while - and, that’s okay. These conversations can happen over a month or a year. Two things to remember? Go at your own pace and go for tea or ice cream if coffee isn’t your thing (it’s not mine).

Here’s my approach…

Step 1: Identify 3 people who interest you to speak to

They should have a job that sounds interesting to you, work for a company that you respect, or work in an industry that you’re interested in. Think about people who love their job. That type of positivity is super refreshing and contagious. They can be friends, friends of friends, a mama at your kid’s school, a business contact, or someone you heard speak on a panel. You get the idea. If this first step is tough for you, share your plan with a few friends, and ask them if they have any suggestions. You would be surprised by how many people pop up once someone is asked to make an introduction.

Step 2: Learn about your 3 people and identify the best way to reach out to them (if they are not already a friend)

A personal introduction is best so if you know someone who can introduce you, that’s ideal. Do a bit of internet research. Sometimes you can find mutual connections on Facebook or LinkedIn. Also, read more about the company they work for and the industry they work in, especially if it’s new to you. You should be able to learn a lot about each person in 15 – 20 minutes.

Step 3: Craft a thoughtful, brief, and direct email

People are busy. Their time is their most precious commodity, so be aware of that. Below is my recommended template for your email. Each part should only comprise 1 – 2 sentences. If you are emailing a friend, you can be informal, but I would recommend using a similar approach. I have written a sample email that you are welcome to use. Go to promama.com to check it out.

Email Template:

  1. Introduce yourself and provide context for how the person may (or may not) know you.

  2. Offer a genuine compliment (here is where you add value and show initiative). Keep in mind:

    -Do you already use a product or service that their company produces? If so, tell them why you love it.
    -Have they written an article? Or do they send a newsletter? Share your opinion about it and post it on your social media.
    -Are they looking to grow their team? Send along the posting to a few friends and let them know.

  3. State your purpose and ask for a brief 20-minute meeting.

  4. Acknowledge that this person is busy and how appreciative you are of his/her time.

  5. Offer to meet them at a convenient location and time of their choosing.

Step 4: Prepare for the meeting

Keep this simple. Make a short list of questions. Start with a personal one like “What’s your favorite thing about your current job?”. If you’re having a good conversation, it will flow, and the questions will come naturally. Be curious!

Step 5: Meet for a chat and ask to be introduced to another person who would be helpful for you to meet

Offer to treat the person with whom you are meeting to what they order. Be honest about where you are and what you’re looking for. Listen actively to their answers and story. Don’t talk about yourself too much.

Don’t ask for a job, even if that’s your ultimate goal. You need to build your relationship first. It’s super important for you to ask them to introduce you to another person. Often, this will come up during the meeting, which will make it much easier. If not, ask at the end of your conversation and then follow up.

Step 6: Follow up

Write a ‘thank you’ email or hand-written note (or both!). Follow up about a topic you discussed and thank them for offering to introduce you to another person. Follow up 4 – 6 weeks later with any updates you can provide. Perhaps you met with the person he or she introduced you to? Or maybe you read their latest post?

Step 7: Keep track of all of these details in a spreadsheet

Mamas don’t need more to add to their list of things to remember. Track your outreach, meetings, and who introduced you to whom. Trust me, you will thank me later. Check your spreadsheet every week or two to make sure you are following up with contacts.

I should mention that I used this approach myself when I first moved to Austin from NYC, and I can personally vouch for it. I was six months pregnant at the time, and although I wasn’t looking for a new job then, I knew I wanted to find one after my baby arrived. By talking to people, I was able to navigate the non-profit landscape, identify organizations that are highly respected, and most importantly, grow my network. I also gained a new friends and had multiple conversations that left me feeling inspired.

After doing this for two months, I had a spreadsheet with over 25 people on it. Five months later, I was ready to find a new job, and the work I did months earlier helped me to find a flexible opportunity at a wonderful non-profit organization.

You can do this too! Take it slow. Don’t get discouraged if someone doesn’t write you back. Keep at it. You never know who you will meet.

What are your thoughts on networking? Have you had another tactic that worked for you?

Jessica Gaffney lives in Austin, TX and is a mother and the founder of Pro Mama. To read more about ProMama pop over to our feature on it here.

Featured photo of Jessica Gaffney by Megan Ambrose