The Power of Networking–And the Kindness of Colleagues and Strangers

So you want to make a career shift. This is all too common in today’s workforce–whether you need a new challenge, have experienced a layoff, or feel stagnant with nowhere to go in your current company. The best way to make that change is to start networking…and here’s how I did it.

In addition to the usual resume-spiffying up, I began a recent job search by meeting up with former colleagues whom I hadn’t seen in years…lots of coffee dates, lots of nice lunches. These friends would then refer me to people they knew in other companies, sometimes other industries. One friend was at a networking event for himself, met a CEO he thought I should talk to, and set up an intro. The more people who know you’re looking, the more people will be on the lookout for possible opportunities that suit your skill set.

What you may not realize when you begin your search is that people love to tell their story–how they got to where they are and what they do on a regular basis to be a success in their field. People also love to help others. One of the best things I learned was that whether I was talking to an executive or a social media community manager, people were kind enough to take time out of their busy day to meet with me.  And believe me, it is no small feat to make time for a stranger when you’re working on this fast-paced isle of Manhattan.

I can’t express how rewarding it can be to get out of the comfort zone of your personal network to speak with strangers both in and out of your industry. In my case, my aim was to expand my horizons beyond the book publishing industry; this doesn’t mean I wasn’t open to opportunities there, but after nearly 15 years within that industry, I wanted to explore how my knowledge and abilities translated into other fields. The people I met with shared honest insights about what it’s like to work in the advertising industry–or they shared their day-to-day experiences as marketing managers within large financial or media companies. One CEO at an ad agency looked through my portfolio page by page, giving his thoughts and recommendations on what to enhance and even downplay.  He also encouraged me to start a blog–advice I clearly took to heart.

Another CEO from a marketing agency shared her views on everything from how she got her start to how she maintains a work-life balance. A political social media manager, who had a great chat with me over tea, began sending me links to job postings after our meeting–which was incredibly helpful and sweet. Another marketing executive introduced me to his niece, who was the Social Media Director of a major magazine.  I had fascinating conversations with both of them that got me thinking about my career in a new way. Such meetings can be really stimulating and energizing–and keep you fresh in your field.

In pursuit of my career change, I’ve also made it a priority to attend a lot of networking and industry events–many of which I’ve reported on in this blog.  I’ve been exposed to new career ideas that have been amazing to learn more about–from corporate social responsibility and various roles within advertising to positions that only focus on social media (as opposed to a broader digital marketing position).

So if you’re ready for a career change, I strongly encourage you to make coffee dates with former colleagues and ask them to introduce you to one or two more connections. Or, write to those 2nd-degree connections on LinkedIn and ask an industry acquaintance for 20 minutes of their time over coffee. Go to networking and industry events, and just start chatting. You never know who you’ll meet or where the conversation may lead.


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