Guest Post by Career Happiness Coach Anna Graham Hunter: How to Network When You Don’t Know What You Want to Do

By now, most people know that if you want to make a career shift you need to network. We’ve heard the statistics: between 70% and 80% of professional jobs are found through networking.

Yet for many, many people who want to make a change or find a job, the process goes like this: scour job postings, see “what’s out there,” and apply.

Why – if we all know what we’re supposed to be doing – are so many people doing the opposite?

The answer is simple: they don’t know how to network.

Many readers may scoff at this statement, thinking, “Of course I know how to network! I connect with people on LinkedIn, I meet former colleagues for lunch or coffee, I ask if people know of open positions.”

And, sure, two out of three of those can be semi-effective when the time comes to make a change (hint: it’s not the last one). But none of them are going to get you where you want to go, especially if you don’t know where you want to go.

If you start trying on different positions for size before you’re crystal clear on what you want to do next, you’re liable to talk yourself into just about anything. Admit it – how many times have you seen an appealing job listing and started imagining the two of you getting hitched and living happily ever after? I’ve done it, lots. As have most of my clients.

But applying for different positions is not the right way to figure out what you want to do. Because even if one of those applications does lead to interviews and an offer, it’s not like you chose it. You just threw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what would stick.

In order to make sure your next step is the right one, you need to be intentional about what you pursue. And that involves talking to the right people at the right time in the right way.

Here are my tips for conducting effective networking conversations when you don’t know what you want to do:

  1. Craft a “What Do You Want to Do Statement” that allows you to explore different options:

“After several years of  . . . [describe your career to date in terms of your accomplishments and what you’ve learned], I’m now exploring opportunities that will allow me to . . .”

The second part of this statement is key to being able to explore a bunch of options. Rather than naming the position, sector, or organization you believe will make you happy, focus on the components of work you know have made you happy. Think about:

  • Tasks that have made you lose all sense of time and projects that have made you excited to get to work early in the morning
  • Colleagues who have brought out the best in you
  • Environments where you have been your most productive.
  1. Talk to creative thinkers and good listeners BEFORE talking to advice givers.

One of the biggest dangers of networking when you don’t have a clear path is getting flooded with advice. People who offer advice are almost always trying to help, but getting suggestions about what you should do next can be deadly when you’re still trying to get your own thinking straight.

The best people to talk to at the early stages will hold up a mirror and help you clarify your thinking rather than saying immediately, “Oh, you should do X!”

Set up these conversations by saying, “I’m in the early stages of exploring what I would like to do next, and I’d love to bounce some ideas off of you.”

  1. Once you get comfortable having these conversations, talk to people people whose work appeals to you to learn more about what they do.

These conversations are often called informational interviews, and they tend to be easy and fun. All you’re doing is asking to learn more about what someone does and how they got there, and for people who love their work, there’s nothing they’d rather talk about.

Invite people to these conversations by saying, “I’m in the early stages of exploring what I would like to do next, and I’d love to learn more about your work and career path.”

After enough of these conversations, your next step will begin to take shape, and you can pursue the path you want to take. By then, you’ll have a network of champions eager to help you get where you want to go.

Did you enjoy this article?  Sign up for Anna’s December 2 webinar for Georgetown Alumni!
Anna Graham Hunter webinar headshot

Anna Graham Hunter is a Career Happiness Coach who helps professionals create their dream careers. A Professional Certified Coach, she spent 23 years in a variety of careers – including education, journalism, politics, lobbying, nonprofit management, management consulting, and executive coaching – before devoting herself full-time to making career happiness a reality for others.  Learn more at http://www.annagrahamhunter.com.

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