This is Part 2 in Bec Mackey's Creative Career Change 101 series. You can find Part One here.
When you’re in the midst of a career change, there are a lot of unknowns. One of the best ways to find out more about your new industry, field or role is to ask those already working in similar jobs or businesses, and ideally, to find an experienced person who can guide you as a mentor during your transition.
However, this is easier said than done, and although much is made of the idea of mentors, the reality is most people won’t just stumble upon someone who is suitable and willing — at least not easily. Add to this the fact that in many creative fields, work is conducted largely solo, and the thought of trying to find the appropriate people to talk to, let alone ask for help, can be enough to make many would-be career changers feel its all a bit too hard.
The truth is, building strong relationships with potential colleagues, clients, suppliers or employers is arguably the most important thing you’ll achieve on your quest to change careers. So what to do, and where to start? If the thought of attending networking drinks alone in an unfamiliar environment with the intention of giving out as many of your shiny new business cards as possible makes you break out in a sweat, never fear. Relationship building for your new career, or as I like to call it – long-term networking, is nothing like the awkward cliché of those dreaded networking nights.
The good news is that long-term networking is much more low-key, organic and enjoyable than traditional networking. It is less about pushing your agenda and more about creating strong relationships that last over time. Another wonderful side effect? Making genuine connections with people fosters friendships that you didn’t know you needed on your way to your next career. Some of them will become lifelong friends, and in the end, you’ll probably count meeting them as much more important and significant than any career move you ever could have made.
Here are three ideas to help you develop strong new relationships on your way to a successful career change:
Career change is often a time of experimentation, and this can lead to wonderfully unexpected things, such as new contacts and friends. During this time of change, you are likely going to be more open to exploring new interests, whether they are directly linked to your new career or not. This can also lead you to meet new like-minded people, many of whom may also be in a state of flux in their own lives.
Instead of just focusing on industry-specific events when building up your new contact list, understand that you’re just as likely to meet someone who you can build a strong long-term relationship with at your ceramics workshop or meditation course. The more you expand outwards into new interests that encompass the bigger picture of the change you are seeking (i.e. more creativity in your life in general) the more likely you are to end up with a strong network of helpful supporters who will be with you through this transition and far beyond.
Don’t underestimate anyone as a potential contact or friend
One of the biggest misconceptions about networking is that its about finding the most influential people you can get hold of and then elevator-pitching yourself into oblivion. Long-term networking is about developing genuine relationships over time, and that means no one is out of the running as a potential connection. That person you met at a party who is finishing their studies, is younger than you or more ‘junior’ in some way, may not have any employment or business leads to offer you right now, but they could well be an incredibly valuable ally or connector in the future. In fact, often the most important connections are the ones you make with other people who are starting out in a new career like yourself.
In this age of collaboration, creative careers and businesses thrive with a diverse range of contacts who may, at any point, become suppliers, collaborators, mentors or, at the very least, great friends to hash out the week with at Friday night drinks.
Show up as yourself
Another problematic idea about networking is that there is only one way to do it, and that involves being extroverted and pushy. This is completely untrue, and in fact pushing your agenda on someone you’ve just met is not going to get you anywhere. Networking that results in real, valuable relationships is about being honest with yourself about who you are and what suits you best.
This doesn’t mean staying home alone and avoiding people completely if you sit on the introverted end of the scale, but it may mean seeking out smaller groups of people or one-on-one scenarios that you feel more comfortable with. Likewise, don’t push a connection with someone if your intuition tells you not to. It doesn’t matter how interesting, important or experienced a potential contact is, if the two of you don’t click, then the effort will be pointless in the long term. Concentrate on developing relationships with people who genuinely interest and inspire you, and people who show an interest in you and your work.
Be open to the fact that these people may come from many and varied work environments and have a wide variety of experience and skills, go with what feels right, and before you know it you’ll have created a contact list that isn’t just valuable to you in your new career, but is full of new friends and allies that will enrich your life.