New Leaf Blog
What does ‘Zen’ even mean? Well, what I mean right now is to find a way to take the stress out of it. When any of us go through a transition in life, especially one that is as fundamental to our identity, lifestyle and income as a career change, stress naturally arises.
A bit of stress can be a good thing. It sharpens our senses and warns us of dangers.
But a lot of stress is disabling. Instead of learning from it (‘hmm, I am afraid of something? What is that? What do I need to do about it?) we shut down. And when we shut down we do nothing to remove the fear. We do nothing to improve our lives. And we are left with a sense of our own helplessness into the bargain.
If you have been sitting on your backside bemoaning your lot, feeling a nagging guilty feeling in your tummy that you ‘should’ do better then don’t worry – we all do that sometimes. But when you know, deep down, that it is time to come out of that and move into action, what then? How do you find that calm?
Why you may be stuck
So often we get stuck. We know what we don’t want. But we are not sure what we do want. And even if we think we know, we worry that it is actually the wrong thing. We worry that we will go through all the effort of changing only to find that we still don’t like our career. And then what?!
The thing is, the fundamental worry, that we will pick the wrong thing, is not a silly one. We might. After all, we have all made the wrong decision before, many times. To err is human, remember?
The problem is not that we might make a mistake, but that the consequence of that mistake is scary.
And the solution is to reduce the risk by either reducing the chance that you have made a wrong decision or reducing the consequences if you have. The best ideas are likely to come from your own clear eyed insight into what worries you. But here are some suggestions which may work for you, or may spark further ideas:
1. Try out your new career before making the move permanently. Become a volunteer or an intern. Or if you are starting your own business, try offering your product or service for free to friends. This won’t work for all careers, but if you think carefully about what you really want to try, chances are it will. Whether catering, producing art, giving advice, fundraising, organising events, managing a team – there are very few activities that you can’t find a way to do for free.
Once you have tried something, you will know more about how much you like it before you make a bigger commitment to it.
2. Look back at your own history. What do you already do, or used to do a lot, that you really enjoyed? What do you do now for free that you could build into a career? When you were a teenager, what was your favourite leisure activity? When you were at primary school what imaginary games did you invent the most?
Are you always designing buildings, creating little books, know the name and engine type of every vehicle that passed you on the road? Are you the person that your friends come to if they need a good listener or are you always putting on shows? What did you naturally do, before you got distracted by the need to earn a living?
There is less risk in choosing something you know you already love.
3. Identify whose voice is telling you that you can’t/shouldn’t/aren’t good enough. We all have an inner voice that keeps us from changing. Sometimes that voice is clearly associated with someone else, perhaps a parent, sibling or friend who tells us we can’t do what we want. Sometimes it is a voice we have learned to integrate into our own consciousness at an early age to protect us from risk. They are trying to protect us from making the wrong choice because it is not prestigious / won’t earn enough money / people will think we are crazy / is a waste of our talents / insert your own message here…
This voice may be out of date. Even if it is trying to protect us, perhaps it is from dangers that we are strong enough to deal with head on. Learn to identify the voice. Thank it for its concern. Then try something out anyway.
This reduces the risk that we are actually trying to lead someone else’s life, and not listening to what would really suit us.
4. Talk to other people who have done the job you are interested in. Listen carefully to the way they describe what they really do – not just the headlines, but the day to day. Ask them what frustrates them, as well as what they love. Ask them what motivates them. Are you finding yourself getting excited and empathising with the way they think, feel, act? When they talk about their frustrations, do they feel like they would drive you nuts, or are they a price worth paying if only you could also do their job?
There is nothing like talking to real people. Getting past the gloss is a great way to find out if you like the reality of this job, rather than what you imagine it is like. This reduces the risk that you will pick something because you don’t really know what it is like.
5. Make a change step by step. If you are starting a business, test the market. Go part time in your job, if you can, and make the transition gradually. Apply for new jobs while you already have a job – don’t wait until you have been made redundant. No-one says you have to jump into something new with both feet.
Making a change gradually, means you can always change direction as you learn more about yourself and the career you are aiming for. It reduces the consequences of making the wrong decision.
6. Study something relating to your new career. When you learn, you have the opportunity to research not only the work, but yourself. What are the pieces that you most want to find out more about? These are probably the areas you will be happiest working. And studying gives you great opportunities to connect with other people making a change as well.
Studying gives you the excuse to ask questions, try things out and see what really works for you. You might even find that what you love is studying. This reduces the risk that you are going in the wrong direction, because you get to delve deep as you career change.
7.Don’t do it alone. People are social animals with a deep seated need to connect to others. Find other career changers to share a journey with and cheer each other on. Tell your best friends and get them to help. Get to know people at networking meetings or as you volunteer or study. Hire a coach or find a mentor.
Whatever you choose, talking things through with others can help you gain clarity, keep you motivated and recognise (at all those times when you forget) what you are really great at. This reduces the risk that you stay stuck and miss the chance to go for what you love.
Reducing the risks of career change
There are plenty of us who dream of getting out of our current job and into something we like better. Sometimes we don’t know what that is. Sometimes we know what we want but we are worried about how easily we can make the change. Sometimes we are concerned about the financial risk of making a change.
The truth is, it is not just paranoia that holds us back. Career change can involve real risk.
Of course, staying where we are can be just as risky – life it short, after all.
Watch this video to find out how to change your career in a way that reduces the risk and gives you the chance to explore what you are stepping into.
Clearly, it is not their politics. But Chavez, Venezuela’s recently deceased left wing president, and right-winger Margaret Thatcher, whose funeral was so contentious in the UK, have something very important in common. They stood for something. They divided opinion. They changed the world.
Society constantly tells us to conform, to behave, to fit in. But the real world-changers do nothing of the kind.
Easy to say, harder to do
So why do more people not stand up and stand out? Because it is tremendously personally risky. Humans are social animals, and the taking the risk of not fitting in is one of the bravest things anyone can do. People will tell you that you are wrong, and you will need to be able to withstand that. It opens you to anger and hate. For some it may even open you to physical attack.
But it also opens you to love and a passionate group of followers.
A few people and organisations have the courage to really go for it. Thatcher and Chavez are exemplars. Not to say they never questioned themselves or came into conflict. But they believed they were here to do something important, and their acts were acts of love, as well (as many may say) of despotism.
You can’t please everyone – but so what?
It is not only politicians who know this to be true. The advertisers of Marmite famously adopted the strapline: ‘you either love it or hate it’ and based whole campaigns around wooing back the people who had grown up with marmite, while admitting it wasn’t for everyone.
This approach allowed Marmite lovers to recognise themselves, Marmite haters to exist but not undermine the power of the campaign and injected some real humour into the way Marmite could talk about itself. And people did engage. They told one another if they were a lover or hater of Marmite. They played with it. And they re-built a relationship with what essentially a dark brown spread with no inherent character.
What I stand for
So this is what I stand for: for people to reveal what is different about them. For people to take the very thing that makes them fear they will be judged, that makes them worry about what people will think, that they hide so they can fit in. For people to take that and see the beauty in it.
Having felt like an outsider my whole life, I know what it is like to hide part of who you really are. A child of a white British father and a Sri Lankan mother, growing up agnostic in a Christian area, growing up left wing in a right wing area, growing up with parents who both took unconventional career paths, grand-daughter of a radical journalist, well, I was never going to feel normal, was I?
But as it turns out, most of us don’t feel normal for one reason or another. Whether it is because we have a different culture, sexuality, physical or mental ability, belief or any other reason that makes us feel like we have to hide part of the truth about ourselves, we are losing a piece of what matters.
What makes us different, actually connects us
Have you ever had someone have the courage to open up and reveal something that very individual about them? Such an experience can be truly intimate – a gift of connection. Or it can be tremendously charismatic – a statement of belief or even of defiance. Or hugely funny, as we realise that we have the same experience and the recognition makes us laugh.
Being more of what we are, rather than hiding it,to a person who really listens, is a tremendous relief. It connects us to the people who understand us. And that connection helps us to understand that we are not alone, that we are not weird or irrelevant.
That connection helps us to understand that what we are, what we have to say, what we are here to do matters not only to us but to others too. For those others, the thing we were hiding may be just what they needed to hear to get the help they needed, to reveal the truth about themselves too, to have products or services made for them, rather than the mainstream, to be counted as normal. Others who were just waiting (although they may not even know it) just waiting for someone like you, to come along and say what needed to be said.
There will always be people who don’t get it. And that is OK. In fact, it is a good sign that you are not distorting yourself to try and be who they are – that is their job, not yours.
So, ask yourself, what it is that you are not saying, not doing or not being, because you fear being judged? And what might be possible if you did?
There are wonderful career change guides there to be found, if you only look. Here are some of my favourites, which have guided me on my own journey and which I really value. Enjoy!
Finding Your Own North Star – Martha Beck
Martha Beck is one of my favourite writers, about careers, life and coaching. She is brave, honest, intelligent and writes with real wit. This is one of her earliest books, and in many ways one of the most conventional. Nonetheless, it shows deep understanding of human beings and what they put in the way of their own ‘right life’.
What Color Is Your Parachute – Richard Nelson Bolles
This is a careers classic and justly a massive bestseller. Bolles updates, no re-writes, it every year to keep up with the latest developments in job hunting. With fun and insightful exercises to help you tap into your right-brain as well as your left, this book takes you from exploring what you want to the best ways to get it. Some of the ideas Bolles created have become mainstream career wisdom. It changed my life and it might change yours – but only if you actually do the exercises.
Wishcraft – Barbara Sher and www.barbarasher.com
Barbara Sher is one of the earliest career change experts, and this was one of the first career books I ever read. The book is in two sections – the wishing part, where you allow yourself to get clear on what you really want, and the crafting part where you make it happen. Barbara Sher understands that people do best with people. Her phrase ‘Isolation is a Dream Killer’ has stayed with me, as has her suggestion to hold ‘idea parties’ to develop your career.
This is only one of Barbara Sher’s books. She develops her ideas further in five other books including the wonderfully titled I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What It Was. In this book she introduced the idea of ‘scanners’ – people who didn’t want to pick one career, but instead wanted a multi-faceted portfolio career. Barbara is insightful, engaging and fun to read. She also has a lot of free resources on her website, courses, talks and retreats, and a real passion for connecting with people., No Character and You’re Often In a Lousy Mood)
The Art of Non-Conformity – Chris Guillebeau www.chrisguillebeau.com
This book and website invites you to live life focused on freedom and independence. Guillebeau is a traveller, entrepreneur and blogger who believes in having experiences and creating meaning, rather than accumulating things. He also counts himself lucky and believes in giving money and time to make the world fairer. This is a man who lives what he believes. A philosophy after my own heart.
This website for career changers was founded by Richard Alderson to bring together people who wanted a career change with the resources that would help them. The site contains guides, blogs, stories from people who have made a change and a lot of coaches advice and guidance. I, and a couple of my friends, had the fortune to be involved in the early days, and they are coming from a genuine desire to unlock barriers and do what works for people.
Escape the City www.escapethecity.org
Escape the City is a website that supports people who want to find a new job, start a business or have an adventure. You set up your profile and then link to people who you want to support with their aspirations. You can ask questions, answer the questions of others and find people who might support you too. This is a site that understands that people find success by helping people.
Good People www.goodpeople.co.uk
A bit like Escape the City, but focused on charities, social enterprises and other civil society organisations, good people connects opportunities with people who are looking for opportunities. The site includes jobs, voluntary positions and requests for advice. The founder will be my interviewee in June, so watch this space…
If you haven’t already discovered TED talks, you are in for a treat. Each talk is no more than 20 minutes long and spoken by a real expert in the field. TED has become an international phenomenon and TEDx , externally organised TED events, have sprung up all over the world. My favourites include Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘Schools Kill Creativity’ and Brene Brown’s TEDx Houston talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, both of which have been watched by millions of people. OK, these are not specifically for career changers, but they are a call to live in line with what really matters to you.
Meet Up Groups www.meetup.com
I am a big advocate of connecting with people and helping each other out, despite not being an extrovert. I have had to learn that networking is not about the hard sell, but about finding people you want to help, and helping them. Meet up groups are a fantastic way to get to know like minded people, for fun or for a specific purpose. There are thousands of them now, and once you are registered, the site will suggest others. A great way to not do stuff alone.
I Am Networking www.iamenterprises.co.uk
For people who want to make charity or social enterprise connections, I Am runs monthly networking events that are genuinely open and friendly. Make yourself known to Julian or Debbie and they will point you towards people who might be good to connect to.
What are your favourite career change resources? Add them below in the comments box so we can all make use of them.
I have written before about the importance of connecting with people before you apply for a job. This technique is amazingly powerful, despite being very simple. You just contact someone who already works in the field and ask them questions.
Yes, just questions. You don’t try to sell yourself, ask for a job or anything that might feel icky to you or to them. You just ask questions.
The thing is, people LOVE to help. They don’t like to feel pressured. They don’t like to feel manipulated or sold to. But they do love to give you the benefit of their own experience, tell their story and make things easier for you.
Of course, some of the people you are likely to want to talk to are busy. Very busy. And some of those people will be getting contacted regularly with people asking if they will be their mentor, come and speak to their group, give them some of their time. So you may get turned down.
Some people will turn you down. But some won’t. And probably, more of them won’t than you think, as long as you approach them in the right way.
Here are my top tips for approaching the kind of people you might want to talk to:
1. Don’t just go for the top of the tree. Find the people that are actually doing the job you want to do and start there. After all, who better to get an insight from.
2. Get an introduction if you can. Ask around to see if anyone knows people you can talk to. You can use Linked In or Twitter for this too, although you may find your existing human network is even more helpful.
3. If you don’t have an introduction, or even if you do, find some other connection. Perhaps an event you have both been to, or an interest you have in common. Mention it when you first contact them, so you are more than just a random name.
4. Start with an email, then follow up with a call. A lot of people send that first email, but don’t follow up. The follow up is actually the most important part of the process. An email is a good way to introduce yourself, but people connect far better with a voice to relate to.
5. Be clear about what you are asking for, and stick to it. Want 20 minutes of their time? Then don’t over-run. You can always arrange to talk again in future if you need longer.
None of this seems that hard. But people sometimes stumble at the very first hurdle. What if you are not sure what to say or how to introduce yourself? Well, it is your lucky day. I have included a real email template that you can use to make that first introduction. Adapt it to your own needs. In fact, feel free to change all of it, if you want to. Just don’t let inaction hold you back.
My colleague [insert name] suggested that you might be a good person to speak to / I heard you speak at [event name] / [or insert another way that you have a connection with them]. I wondered if you might be willing to spare 15 minutes of your time to help me.
My name is [name] and I currently work in [your role]. I am exploring the possibility of a career change into [their field] because I am particularly interested in / motivated by [your reason].
Though I have experience of [something relevant you can already do that they also do], I am still new to [something that you want to know more about]. I want to make sure I really understand [what it is you want to learn about] from someone who has insight into what it is really like [doing this job] from the inside.
Please would you let me know what would suit you. I don’t want to take too much of your precious time. I am happy to take you for a coffee, or if it is more convenient, just to give you a call.
Many thanks in anticipation
It is such a deeply ingrained trick that even some HR professionals and recruitment consultants believe it to be true, despite all the evidence. Don’t be an April Fool. Watch my video and find out what we have been told all our lives about how to apply for a job that is just plain wrong.
Intrigued? Click on the link below to watch.
There are many qualified applicants for most jobs that are advertised. This has always been the case, but in the current financial climate, people are particularly concerned about how hard it is to find a job that they want to do. And so many of us stay put in jobs where we are bored or unmotivated because we fear to move on, or find it too hard to open those new doors.
Nonetheless, there are people who change career or get jobs in a new sector even in a tough financial climate. How do they do it?
There is an element of luck. But the most successful people find ways to improve their luck. Some research even suggests that only 20% of jobs are found using conventional methods alone – in other words, finding a job ad and applying for a job – despite this being the method that we are taught is the way to do it.
Improve your luck by using one or preferably more of the strategies below:
1. Get known by the people you want to employ you
Research shows that your changes of being employed increase dramatically, perhaps as much as five times, if someone already knows you.
In fact, getting known has more than one advantage. The employer is more likely to take the chance of employing you because you already have a relationship. They are not trying to assess who you are from two pieces of paper and a half hour meeting.
And, just as important, you have the chance to assess them. This means you can find out if this really is a job you want, before you apply for it. And having decided that you do, your application can have a bit more life and energy to it – expressing your genuine feelings about the role and how you would excel in it.
How do you get known?
Do enough research to find places you are interested in working. Then be direct – call and ask if you can have 20 minutes of a manager’s time to ask questions. Prepare your questions in advance so you are clear what you want to find out. And don’t over-run the time you have asked for. After all, you are trying to build relationships, not annoy people.
Explain to your contact what you are looking for in a role, but don’t ask for a job. And definitely don’t wait until a job is advertised to do this. Be proactive and build relationships with the very people you think you might want to work for well before you know a job is on offer.
2. Go for the jobs that are not advertised
Sometimes, when you call people up, you will find out that they have a vacancy that would suit you. This is a great opportunity, because once a job is advertised you are likely to be one of 50+ applicants, many of whom have a lot of directly relevant experience. Third sector organisations in the UK often advertise in the same places: The Guardian newspaper, Third Sector Jobs or one of the specialist recruitment agencies operating in the sector.
It is well known that the majority of jobs are not advertised at all. By putting yourself in the position to find these jobs, you dramatically improve your chances of success. You might even be the only applicant.
As well as making direct contacts, as described above, attend networking events, let everyone know what you are looking for, and follow all the leads that most appeal to you. It is hard to guarantee that you will find a job that is not advertised. But, as before, you can increase your chances of getting lucky.
3. Be really clear about what is special about you
If you are making connections, as suggested above, people will start to see things that are special about you anyway. And the mere fact that you are proactive enough to reach out and research early will also make you stand out.
Beyond that, it is worth spending some time working out what are the aspects of you that are relatively unusual – especially relating to the kind of job you are looking for. For example, if you want to work for a charity that works internationally there are lots of HR specialists, but not many with the ability to speak Xhosa. If you want to work in an animal charity, there are lots of accountants, but not many who have volunteered in an animal sanctuary.
So often, a CV or application leads us to tone down our character and flatten who we are. Think about how you can express the distinctive qualities that you have to make yourself a more rounded personality – while also demonstrating that you are a safe pair of hands that can do what the employer wants.
4. Don’t waffle
How on earth can you condense your whole life,all your skills, abilities and beliefs into two pieces of paper? You can’t. Your CV or application is not able to do all of this. It is intended to get the reader interested enough to want to see more.
Put yourself in the shoes of the employer. What is the one thing they want the most from an employee? How do you meet this criterion?
Say it out loud.
Now say it again until you can do it in one sentence.
Then do the same again for the thing you believe is the second most important thing for the employer. And then the third. Well done – you now have one paragraph of your cover letter.
Now look at yourself and your CV and see if there is anything that might scare the employer or put them off. Perhaps you seem over-qualified. Or you have been out of work for a while. Or self-employed.
Think carefully about whether you address that issue head on (e.g. ‘I have been self-employed because of the flexibility that gives me to work from home with small children, but now they are older I am looking for employment I can dedicate myself to in the long term’). Or whether you choose to leave it out in the hope that this will draw less attention to it. Either is a risk and the answer will depend on the circumstances, but I would tend towards tackling it, if you feel that you can provide a clear and justifiable answer.
5. Be persistent
However well you network, explain yourself or find unadvertised jobs, it can take time to find work. Remember that is a symptom of the marketplace, and not a comment on yourself or your worthiness.
One of my favourite quotations is from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School. She says that all success looks like failure in the middle.
Sometimes it is hard to remember that, especially when you get no feedback from employers. So find ways to get the support or reassurance that would most help you to keep going. Get a group of supportive friends who are all job hunting and do it together. Find a coach. Give yourself rewards for doing what you can do to succeed, to make your own luck, rather than for an outcome that you cannot control.
Do whatever it takes. And don’t stop.
Research shows that 80% of people don’t enjoy their career and have other dreams, but don’t take the risk to make them a reality.
I use the word risk on purpose, because fear is the main reason we stop ourselves having what we really want. Fear that we won’t make it. Fear that when we get there, our dream won’t be as good as we imagined. Fear that it will, but that we are selfish or arrogant for having such a good life. Fear of what other people might think. Fear of not having enough money or security. You name it, we can be afraid of it.
And yet, one of my greatest fears is that I will live a life without meaning. I am afraid that when I die I will not have not used my time and abilities to make the world a better place. It sounds corny, but it is a deeply held fear.
So for me, the signs that you are living what Thoreau called ‘a life of quiet desperation’ are warnings indeed. But warnings that contain within them clues that can help us all find the fulfilment and purpose that we are craving.
Take a look and see if you recognise any of them in yourself. And if you do, just ask, what am I going to do about it? What am I going to do to make sure I live the life I am really capable of?
You get excited and inspired when you hear about someone who has taken risks and made a real difference in their life, but you don’t take action yourself.
The people who inspire you are like beacons. They prove to us that it is possible to succeed. They provide a pathway to follow, when the path seems unclear.
We can learn a lot about what is important to use by looking at the people we are most interested in. What is it about them that lifts our hearts? Spend a moment to notice. Then find a way, however big or small, to build that into your own life.
Warning no. 2
You tell yourself that there is nothing you can do because there is a recession on.
Change is challenging at any time. But people who make things happen during the toughest periods learn to be resilient and resourceful. If you can make it now, just what will you be capable of when times are good.
It is true that many career changes are more challenging in a recession. But this warning is often used as an excuse for not living the life that you want right now.
There will always be a reason to delay. There are always more reasons not to.
Warning no. 3
You tell yourself that changing career is just too risky.
We all live with risk all the time. Even staying where you are involves risk.
The way to deal with this is threefold:
- Check whether the risks are real, or based on unreal fears.
- Create a life where you are set up to give yourself the security you really need. Find ways to manage the risks. Pay off debt or put aside some savings. Develop your skills so you are more employable. This strategy gives you security whatever you decide to do with your life.
- Make changes you can accommodate, even if you fail. Do your research. Meet people in the field you want to move to. Make a plan. Find ways to make the change gradually.
Warning no. 4
You have a rant about how ‘unlucky’ you are not having the chance to make a difference
If you are reading this you are wealthy enough to have internet access, educated enough to read and interested enough in changing your life to have got down to warning no. 4. It is true that luck plays a part in everyone’s life. But you are already amongst some of the luckiest people in the world.
Now it is time to make more of your own luck. Delve into what you have learned from the toughest experiences in your life. Listen to your gut when it tells you what difference you would most like to make in the world. Think about what you can do, rather than what you can’t. Now just go and do it.
Warning no. 5
You tell yourself that you don’t have the time to make a career change
Do you have the time not to? Life is short.
Time is one of the two most common excuses for not changing career (the other being money). But if single mothers with kids and a job can do it, you can do it. You just need one important thing: to decide, really decide, that you are going to.
It is true that you cannot do everything in life. But you can do one or two of the things at the top of your list. It is up to you. Is this at the top?
Warning no. 6
You know that too many of your decisions are being driven by fear, but you just can’t help yourself
Fear is probably the most powerful emotion that most of us have. For long-standing survival reasons, fear doesn’t often operate consciously. Instead it triggers responses that keep us doing what we have always done.
The more we can make our fears conscious and get help overcoming them, the more we build our courage muscles. And the more we build our courage muscles, the more we have choices in our lives to do what really matters.
Start practising with tiny steps that allow you to look fear in the eye and tell it that you will be fine.
Warning no. 7
You used to have fun, have dreams, have vision: but now you just to what you need to, to get through the day
Does it feel like you are existing, rather than living? This warning sign is like the mother of all the others. You know if applies to you in all or part of your life.
What do you you need to do about it? Find ways to rediscover that fun, those dreams, that vision. Listen to yourself to hear what is important. And find ways to make it true for yourself. Even if those ways are small – take a moment to do a creative project, go for a walk in the sunshine, reconnect with an old friend – make sure you do the things that bring you back to life regularly.
Warning no. 8
Whenever you use any of the excuses above, you have a quiet sinking feeling in your gut. Yes, that is the ‘quiet desperation’ making itself heard, quietly.
It is time to stop telling yourself that it is OK, if it isn’t. You know, you always know, if you are putting off the things that matter most. Start by listening to yourself. And see what you learn about who you really are.
What are the warning signs in your own life? How have you overcome them, or how do you plan to? Are there others I have missed? Post a comment below to let me know what you think.
Networking. It is one of those words that horrifies us, right? It conjures up images of ‘working the room,’ business cards in your hand and a fixed smile on your face as you ‘sell yourself’ to people who have never heard of you.
If this is your image of networking, you have got it completely back to front.
About ten days ago, I was a guest speaker at I am Enterprises Third Sector career change evening http://iamenterprises.co.uk/. A member of the audience asked a question from exactly that perspective, clearly full of trepidation about how to have enough confidence to march up to a complete stranger and ask for a job.
Start with the people you already know
My suggestion was the opposite of conventional networking. Instead of starting with people you don’t know, start with the people you do.
You probably know hundreds of people – family, friends, colleagues, your kids friend’s parents…
And amongst those, there are probably people who either work in or have connections in the field you are interested in.
Well, perhaps they do, but you don’t know it. After all, why would someone suddenly tell you out of the blue that they are good friends with the guy who runs a children’s charity, or that they studied with the woman who is head of fundraising at a social enterprise for homeless immigrants? They probably wouldn’t unless they knew you were interested and wanted to know.
You are closer to knowing the right person than you think
Even if you don’t know anyone with the right connections, you might know someone who knows someone who does. A famous piece of research had people deliver a parcel to someone they didn’t know by only passing it by hand to people they did know. Most of the parcels arrived. And most of them took no more than six connections to get there – hence the phrase ‘Six Degrees of Separation’
But what I think is more astonishing is that each person did not need to know all the connections for it to work. All they did was get as close as they could. So they would pass it to someone in a cloer region, who would pass it to someone in the town, who would… you get the idea.
Getting connected to people you want to speak to can be surprisingly simple. Here are my top tips for starting with who you know:
1. Hold a party with a purpose
Invite between 4 and 10 of your closest friends and family. Choose people who have a ‘can do’ attitude, not those who might puncture the atmosphere and leave you flat. When you invite people, let them know there is a purpose to the evening: to develop your career.
Tell them what work you want to get into, and ask them for any connections they have in this field. Get them to introduce you, or at least get their permission to use your name when you get in touch.
2. Ask for advice, not a job
When you follow up your connections, do the things that work, not the things that turn people off. So, start by being clear how much of their time you are asking for – 20 or 30mins is about right.
Be prepared with a list of questions so you don’t waffle. Tell them about yourself and what you are looking for, but don’t ‘sell’ yourself or ask for a job. Right now you are building a relationship. People like to offer advice and help. Let them.
Be a little sceptical about some advice. For example, lots of people in the third sector tell you the best way to get a job is to volunteer first. Volunteering is great. But I think you will find a huge number of people get their first job in the sector without volunteering. Try asking about your contact’s own experience of getting their first role.
3. Ask your Connections for More Connections
Make your final question, ‘Is there anyone else you could introduce me to that might help me?’ Keep meeting people and asking for help and advice. Build on your questions from the previous time. You might ask something like ‘I have found out that I need some voluntary experience – do you have any specific roles and organisations you recommend?’
4. Follow up with a thank you and a request to stay in contact
This is ever easier to do with email and social media. Linked In is a great way to stay connected. Pick the connections that you most chimed with – the people who you felt kindred feeling with – and make an effort to stay in touch.
But don’t just sit on that Linked In connection. Find ways to stay in touch. Send them something that might be helpful to them – an article they might be interested to read, for example. And let them know what difference the advice they gave you has made to them. This is a delicate balance. You don’t want to become a stalker, but you do want to stay in touch. Make sure you are sensitive about their reaction. But don’t assume they don’t want to hear from you either.
5. Say ‘Yes’ to opportunities whenever you can
You never know what will come of your actions. So say yes whenever you can. When you knock on doors, sometimes none of them seem like they will open. And then, like buses, three come along at once. So, keep knocking, keep saying yes and keep learning.
Remember, this is meant to be getting you in touch with the work that makes you come alive. If, along the way, you do things that make you feel fake, you are further than ever from achieving that. Go for human connection and authenticity. Talk with people who you like.
After all, there is nothing authentic about hiding out at home, alone and purposeless.
Put a spring in your career focus, even though it is still wintry outside.
Yes, February is my least favourite month. By now most of us have long forgotten our New Year’s Resolutions. But the snow on the ground can also remind us that it is still the beginning of the year. As spring approaches, what do you want this year to be about?
Watch this video and then renew your own commitment to what is in store in 2013.