Q: I have been out of the workforce for the past 5 years. I have 20+ years of education and was a small business owner. I am overqualified for entry-level positions and have been turned down for employment at several major retailers. My past work experiences were in real estate and finance. But I want to start a new career in the food or the fashion industry where I feel that I can express my creative talents. I am willing to start from the ground level. How do I find networking events or career coaches who can guide me and help me getting hired?
A: Congratulations on asking some very good questions. Let’s tackle the networking events first. You should begin by perfecting an elevator speech. When a colleague, friend or neighbor asks what you are looking for, you should be able to summarize your background, skill set and your aspirations. This is easier said than done but it a worthwhile exercise to draft, perfect and rehearse this pitch.
For networking, consider the following:
1. Connect with friends, colleagues, alums from your past and present. Linkedin makes it easy to do. Join groups on Linkedin. Join a few with a food or fashion focus.
2. Check out www.meetup.com. This is a site which coordinates events for people with common interests. I visited the site and found several area groups with a variety of interests within food. For example, there are groups with interests in natural foods cooking and ethnic dining.
3. Re-connect with the colleges and universities you have attended. The career center and alumni relations offices could be helpful to you.
4. Schedule coffees, lunches, etc. with colleagues and friends. In-person networking is invaluable.
5. Never say no to an introduction. Often when you meet with a contact, that contact will refer you to another contact. Contacts are valuable. Never say no.
The Association of Career Professionals International (www.acpinternational.org) is a good place to start when searching for a career coach. There is a “Find” feature on the website and you can enter basic information and find matches that might be appropriate for you. Always ask a few key questions before hiring a career coach. First, ask about their background, qualifications and experience. You should interview them. Make sure that you feel like you could build a productive relationship with this coach. Second, ask how they are paid. You want to ensure that you understand this information in advance. Third, what is their process or approach? Finally, check a few references.