There’s a popular saying about work that goes something like, “if you do what you love for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I like that saying. I agree with it and I’ve said it, or some version of it, to young people–well, younger people than me, many times in hopes of guiding them towards a more happy and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, nobody ever said it to me when I was first starting out so I do what I do for a living not because I love it, but because I’m good at it and it pays the bills. Pretty well, I might add. Still, it’s not what you’d call a “fulfilling career,” but the money’s nice. Anyway, I say all of that to tell you about my recent adventures in career transition and a few of the lessons I learned.
I work in corporate finance. Bean counter is something people have called me. Raging dickhead is another, but I digress. For the past eight years, I’d been doing my thing for a pretty well known company which is a subsidiary of another pretty well known corporation. The paycheck was good, the hours manageable, the people nice, but the unchanging routine of it coupled with the daily aggravation visited upon me by the bureaucrats at corporate were boring the living shit out of me while also slowly devouring my soul. I recognized the symptoms because I’d been similarly afflicted with them a half a dozen or so times before in my career and knew that it was time to move on. But how? Here’s where the lesson begins.
I’ve been doing what I do for a living long enough that I’ve risen to a fairly senior level in my field (not-so-humble-brag). Because of this, the types of jobs that I would be interested in are not exactly plentiful, but they’re out there (even in this economy). So I knew that I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for in the classifieds section of the L.A. Times or on Monster.com or any of the other internet job search sites. No, friends, I was going to have to NETWORK to find the job I was looking for.
Networking. UGH, AM I RIGHT?
Yessssss, reaching out to friends, acquaintances, that guy you worked with on that project that one time, etc. etc. LinkedIn, coffees, lunches, corporate sponsored wine mixers, fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
Guess what? As distasteful as all of that sounded to me, it worked. Not right away, mind you, because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at first, but I’m a fast learner. So now, I’m happy to report that I left my last company, on excellent terms, and now work for a company that is providing me the kind of challenges and learning opportunities that I was looking for. I’m excited about going to work again. How did it happen? Here’s what I learned:
1. Know What You Want — You don’t like your job? Ready to find a new one that you WILL like? Your chances of success will increase dramatically if you first take the time to write down exactly what you don’t like about your current job and exactly what kind of job you want to have instead. Details are important: your position, title, responsibilities, type and size of company, management structure, location, etc. This will help you with step 2…
2. Make a Target List — Use the internet and the business section of your local newspapers to research companies in your area or the area of the country where you want to live and work that best fit the description you came up with in step 1.
3. Now You’re Ready to Network — Networking is fundamentally transactional. It’s about buying and selling. If you aren’t in the market to buy or sell something, networking is basically a waste of time other than as social activity for which there are usually better and more fun alternatives. But now, you are in the market to sell something: yourself, as a valuable human capital asset, to the highest bidder from among your target companies.
4. The Network — Start with your friends, acquaintances, colleagues and former colleagues. If you don’t have a huge list of those, attend the next breakfast or mixer put on by your local Chamber of Commerce. If there’s a professional association that you belong to or can get one of your acquaintances to invite you to a function as a guest, attend that. Depending on your personality it might be uncomfortable as hell, at first, to network with strangers but you’ll get comfortable and even good at it fairly quickly. Trust me. Numbers are the name of the game at this point. You want to meet as many people as possible. By the way, you know what? Most people, the vast majority actually, are happy to help. I know, it shocked the hell out of me too.
5. The Elevator Pitch — Write down and rehearse, until it’s as smooth as glass, your “elevator pitch.” That is, a 30 second (no longer than a minute) description of who you are, what you do and what type of company you want to do it for. It’s called an elevator pitch because in business you sometimes have no longer than the length of an elevator ride with the person whom you need to sell on your idea, your product or yourself to get your message across.
6. The Ask — End your elevator pitch with the following question: “What do you do?” Take a genuine interest in getting to know this person. Ask questions, learn something. Then after they’ve told you about themselves, based on what they do and whom they might know, you can follow that up with “I’d love to get an introduction to someone at __________ company. Do you know anyone there or anyone who might be able to facilitate an introduction for me?” NEVER say “I’m looking for a job” or “I’d like to talk to them about a job” or “I’m going to ask them for a job” or anything like that. It can make people uncomfortable to sic “job hunters” on their friends or business acquaintances. But networkers know that it’s a “you scratch my back today, I’ll scratch yours tomorrow” world and that introduction could lead to them being able to call on you for a similar favor or even to do business with someday, so…
7. The Follow Through — You’ve gotten the introduction, usually by email. Now what? Follow up with an email or a phone call of your own. Schedule a meeting or a coffee or a lunch, whatever works best for both of you. Repeat steps 5 and 6 from above. Tell them about yourself and what you bring to the table. Share your resume with them and ask them if they think someone with your skills could help their company or the firm for which you’re asking an introduction to. If you’re looking for them to facilitate another introduction rather than bring you into their firm you can also offer to help them with referrals or introductions to people you know or have gotten to know. Scratch each other’s backs, so to speak.
Here’s what will happen: eventually you will get introduced to people who will be in a position to get you to the position you’re looking for. Crazy right? When it does, you’ll be ready to capitalize because the other thing that networking does for you is it makes you incredibly good at talking about and selling yourself. You’ll also learn how to ask the right questions. The interviews will be a breeze. In fact, they’ll feel more like natural and interesting conversations than interviews. And that will lead to offers and the job you really want.
I tell you this with the confidence of someone who’s done it and done it successfully. Life’s too short to be unhappy forty hours a week. Update your resume, polish your elevator pitch and GET OUT THERE. Good luck.