Q. How can I network, apply and interview for multiple possible directions and not appear unfocused by the people I meet? I can do a few different things, and want to find the best possible opportunity.
A. In any job search, the target is the area of focus for most people, not the bull’s-eye. It is totally acceptable to have a range of ideas about the roles you would like to explore, as long as there is some overlap in skills. Networking continues to be the job search tactic many job seekers are least inclined to use, so kudos to you for your eagerness to broaden your networking strategy.
The point of networking is to meet as many people as possible who can provide you with the right information and introductions to land the best job for you. Networking in a variety of vertical markets or around several different job functions is smart, particularly if you are relatively new to the job market or are open to/planning a career change. However, you don’t want this approach to be perceived as a fragmented or unfocused job search effort.
As you prepare for these meetings, review the skills you have and want to use. You can also explore what different titles might be for jobs using similar skills in different industries. A job in alumni affairs in higher education might be an event planner in the hospitality industry. A mortgage broker is a salesperson in many industries. And the more senior management roles may not even need industry experience for effective career changes.
As you request networking meetings, be thoughtful about how much information you provide. For instance if you are meeting a professional who has been in the same company or industry for many years, focus your networking request and meeting on where your interests lie relative to his or her experience. You don’t need to explain that you are taking a broader approach to your networking strategy; any person well rooted in an organization, discipline or industry is less likely to appreciate this approach. Instead, focus on why meeting with him or her is important to you and what you hope to achieve.
For the contacts who have a more diverse work history, prepare a 60 second statement on what your networking strategy is, your goals for networking and your rationale for taking this approach. They are less likely to misconstrue your networking strategy as lack of focus, but it’s still important to make sure they know your choices are deliberate. If they seem unclear on how to help you, take advantage of the opportunity to ask if your goals aren’t clear enough. Better to find out in one meeting than after many that you need to change your presentation.
Also, contacts who has moved companies, disciplines or industries are likely to have contacts in multiple directions. You may want to prompt them to think about who they know, without appearing to be in pursuit of any opportunity you find.
Always remember that networking is a two-way street. At the end of each meeting, ask what you can do to help the person you are meeting with. You may be surprised to find that you can reciprocate whether you are currently employed or not.
-Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners