I am often asked for career advice about networking because while most people considering a career change are familiar with the oft-repeated advice to “network” their way to a new path, many people feel unsure about what this means in practice. At worst, people think of networking as attendance at cheesy business card exchange events or suffering through miserable happy hours where you cozy up to strangers in the hope that they will be willing to recommend you to all their employed and well-connected friends.
Well, my advice involves more practical recommendations than you might expect. The success stories below feature people who have successfully facilitated a transition from one career path to another. Their experiences and successes may inspire you to follow their examples.
Networking Career Advice Success Story #1: Anne Baker – From Internet Economy to Capitol Hill
Anne Baker enjoyed a thriving career in the Internet economy during the dot com boom ending in 2000. As one of the early employees of the company now called RealNetworks, Anne used her Georgetown University language arts education to good advantage to work her way from Administrative Assistant to Advertising Traffic Manager. Recruited to Avenue A (an Internet advertising company), Anne spent one year as a Client Strategist before deciding that her personal mission statement includedworking toward economic parity for women.
Throughout the early years of her career, Anne was well-known as an advocate for women in high tech. Her involvement with the technology industry inspired her to become a Founding Director of DigitalEve International, an organization with the goal of promoting women’s participation in technology careers. While Anne’s participation on the Board of DigitalEve was satisfying, DigitalEve was a volunteer-run organization and Anne’s contributions were unpaid. She was still searching for a salaried position that would be congruent with her personal mission to affect the economic well-being of women.
While watching the television show, “The West Wing,” Anne experienced an epiphany. She wanted to work in politics. She announced to her husband, “I have to do this.” While pondering her options, Anne wondered if perhaps she could find a place for herself on the staff of Senator Maria Cantwell, another former RealNetworks employee who won a seat in Congress to represent Washington state. Anne was still in touch with RealNetworks colleagues, and one of them was able to deliver her resume to Senator Cantwell’s office.
Because the budget for recruiting was limited, Anne was invited to interview if she was going to be in the Washington, D.C. area any time in the near future. At her own expense, Anne booked a ticket. After proving via a test that she had excellent writing skills (using that liberal arts education!), Anne interviewed with Senator Cantwell’s Chief of Staff. During the interview, Anne and the interviewer discovered that they both spoke Russian and both had previously lived in Russia. (In addition, Anne found an opportunity to mention in the interview that she spoke fluent Icelandic and French, and she has a background in Greek, Scottish-Gaelic, Chinese, Latin, and American Sign Language).
Anne was hired as a Legislative Correspondent. In this role, Anne responded to constituent inquiries, helped to create policy, and handled a variety of administrative responsibilities for Senator Cantwell. Anne’s networking career advice: “Having a network doesn’t mean that you have to spend evenings out doing cocktails and schmoozing. It can be as simple as staying in touch with friends from past jobs. You never know when your old office mate could be your biggest champion.”
2010 Update: Anne Baker is now a diplomat for the United States Government.
Networking Career Advice Success Story #2: Fabienne Mouton – A Career Consultant Makes a Cross-Continent Move
Fabienne Mouton moved from her native France to the United States to accompany her Microsoft employee husband. Fabienne had worked as a career consultant in France, but as she arrived in her new home country, she faced dual challenges as she did not know the English language and her H4 visa did not permit her to work in the U.S. As someone who understood how to implement career networking, Fabienne decided that her first priorities were to obtain some type of education or certification in career development from a U.S. school, to become acquainted with local career development professionals, and to gain experience even if she had to do so an unpaid volunteer.
Fabienne began conducting information interviews and someone mentioned to her that the University of Washington offered a career development certification program. Despite already having obtained computer science and psychology degrees in France, Fabienne enrolled in the program. Another contact recommended that she join the Puget Sound Career Development Association, a professional association that would enable Fabienne to meet other career development professionals (Fabienne eventually became the President-Elect for the organization). Finally, to gain some pragmatic experience, Fabienne began volunteering in the mornings at Lake Washington Technical College and in the afternoons at Bellevue Community College. By doing career advising, job search coaching, and resume writing, Fabienne quickly improved her English speaking and writing skills. She also used her extensive computer skills to master computerized career search and electronic resume writing.
All the investment of time and energy paid off for Fabienne. Once she secured a work permit, she landed several offers for paid full-time work. Fabienne accepted a part-time career advisor position with Bellevue Community College, and a second position to assist trailing Microsoft spouses. Fabienne’s networking career advice, “My experience can help people to understand that everything is possible when you are determined and you follow a step-by-step career goal plan. Networking is the most powerful way to find work or to realize career goals. It works really well when you are focused and your message is clear and concise so that people can understand who you are and what type of work you want.”
2010 Update: Fabienne is now Corporate Outreach Liaison for Bellevue Community College and she is a Outplacement and International Career Consultant at International Career Consulting.
Networking Career Advice Success Story #3: Teresa Goertz – From Financial Services to Technical Writing
When Teresa moved to Seattle from Vancouver, British Columbia, the only person she knew was her soon-to-be husband. Having spent 13 years in the financial services field, Teresa was ready for a change. She wanted to launch a new career and she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
Teresa chose technical writing because she considered writing to be her “true calling.” Hurdles to be overcome included the facts that Teresa had never written anything professionally and she did not have much technical experience. To build her skills, Teresa signed up for a Technical Writing certification program at Bellevue Community College. She also signed up for a Technical Editing program. She completed both certifications in 13 months.
While she was gaining skills in school, Teresa knew that she needed to make contacts with professionals in the field. She joined the Puget Sound chapter of the Society for Technical Communications (STC). Because she had some previous background in marketing, she volunteered as the Public Relations chair for one of their regional conferences. She was also recruited to be a judging manager for their annual writing competition. The woman heading both the conference and the competition worked for a consumer product group at Microsoft. After working with Teresa at Society events, the woman hired Teresa for a two week trial as a contractor in a user education group at Microsoft. Teresa stayed for a year until she hit the IRS-mandated 100 day break in service requirement, and her manager was unable to secure permission to hire her for a permanent position.
It was back to networking for Teresa. The president of the local chapter of STC had her own consulting firm, so Teresa approached her and was able to land a two month contract providing writing expertise. This contract led to others, and Teresa developed a career niche as a technical communicator working in a variety of capacities. In addition to writing, Teresa also offered strategic planning and marketing for the firm using her marketing skills from her previous experiences. Teresa’s networking career advice, “After 18 months, I was earning 58% more per hour than when I started my new career. Some experience pays off!”
2010 Update: Teresa is Owner at Excellence in Communications, a Technical Communicator at Windows Mobile, and a Content Publishing Lead at Microsoft.
Networking Career Advice Success Story #4: Jo Johnson – From Theater Stage Management to Software Project Management
Jo Johnson had always dreamed of leading a romantic life with a career in the theater. She pursued her dream and lived the life she loved for many years. However, at the age of 30, Jo was married and she began to feel that her theater career was better suited for single persons or those willing to live without much pay and with the ability to move at a moment’s notice. Although she still loved the theater, she began to long for roots, better pay, and the freedom to go on dates with her husband on Friday nights.
Jo blanketed Seattle with her resume and cover letters. She received a cool reception from corporate hiring managers, discovering that her experience in the theater and her Masters degree in Stage Management were not sufficient to generate interest in hiring her. Jo’s husband was working as a temp at Adobe Systems, so Jo was able to make a connection with a recruiter there. She sought a temp position as a Project Manager for a marketing program, and she was offered the job. After a short time, the temp job was converted into a contract job.
Once in the job, Jo concluded that her work as a Stage Manager was very similar to the work as a Project Manager. She explains, “In the theater, a Stage Manager tracks Actors, Directors, Designers, Props, Electrics, Costumes, and Schedules. In the software industry, a Project Manager tracks Engineers, Marketers, Designers / Artists, Developers, Public Relations, Quality Assurance, Schedules, and many bits, bytes, and details.” Jo eventually was promoted into a permanent position at Adobe. Later, she was hired by another software company to be a Project Manager with even more responsibility.
Jo’s networking career advice, “What it really took to make this career shift was a lot of patience! I also had to get over my fear of talking to people and really networking. Through both of my careers, all of my jobs have been obtained through contacts with other people. Through my life, I think I have gotten only one or two interviews from a resume sent out cold. My personal experience rings true to the saying, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ The ‘what’ really counts when you get in the door, but the ‘who’ is the most important aspect of getting it opened.”