How do I network when I don't know what I want
September 9, 2013 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I am moving to a new city for personal reasons and I need to find a job. This weekend I will be in the new city and will go to the pub where my school's local alumni club for that city is meeting. I'd like to make a good impression on the people that I meet, and, in doing so, to productively advance my job search. The problem? I don't know what I want to do. How do I make a good first impression without having a direction?

I joke that I am a recovering attorney -- graduated law school right in time for the economy to crash, caught up in the legal downturn, hung a shingle and couldn't make that work. Because of very many bad experiences, and virtually no good ones, working for other attorneys and on my own, I'm very hesitant to try to practice again in my new city. My skin crawls when I think about it.

At present, I do a boring desk job, mostly involving excel, for a big faceless corporation, which is generally boring but otherwise a fine job. I feel like I have a lot of talents and skills but no idea how to sum them up in a way that indicates that I'd be a good fit at any particular job or career. My experience has been, as well, that people can't get past the word "Lawyer." Even the career counselor I hired this summer kept pushing me to practice law instead of helping me figure out what I want to do (I paid him a lot of my savings so I can't afford another career counselor right now).

I want to network with people this weekend and find a job. I don't know how to do that. I don't know what to ask for, or ask about. What should I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Policy gigs don't appeal?
posted by oceanjesse at 4:46 PM on September 9, 2013

MoonOrb is right that it's hard to network without an idea of what you want, but his line is pretty much what I use when I was networking out of being a practicing attorney and into being a policy advocate, minus the "I don't know what I want to do" because I knew what I wanted to do. When I met with people, I said that I was transitioning out of practice so I could focus on the aspects of law that I enjoyed (namely court systems and social justice) while using the relevant skills I had developed in appellate practice.

When you meet people at your networking event, introduce yourself as a person transitioning out of the practice of law and that you're there to find out what sort of careers might match your skill set. Ask people what skills they look for when hiring new people and what skills they want those people to develop. Then try to relate that to what you do well or what you enjoy doing.

FWIW, I also paid a career counselor to help me figure out what to do, post-law-career and it was not terribly useful. I mean, she's made a good career out of it, but I would never recommend her services. I figured out what I wanted to do by telling everyone I trusted that I wanted out of my law firm job, that I was good at research and excellent at writing point papers and advocacy documents, and did they know anyone I should talk to about a possible career. Then I had coffee with those people and asked them what their jobs entailed, what skills they needed to do their jobs, what they needed to learn at their jobs. From there, I figured out what I wanted.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:40 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Make this a contact-and-information-getting mission. Instead of focusing on your pitch, get business cards, ask people about what they do and where they do it. Asking people about their jobs almost always easily leads to other questions. This can be casual and as much about getting to know people as information-hunting.

If it were me, I would be frank about changing careers, trying to find out what jobs would allow me to use skill x and knowledge y. You could also relate some of your previous experience. "Oh, you do X? I dealt with X1 a few years ago and my experience was like this, how about you." Connection + fact finding + giving them an idea of your skillset.

Later, when you find a job you are interested in, check to see if any of your contacts work at that company, and if so reach out to them when you apply.
posted by bunderful at 8:00 PM on September 9, 2013

I have the kind of job where people try to network with me all. the. time. And i'm really open to it, because i'm in the job today because of introductions and opportunities that my network gave me. But the #1 thing a person can do that will cause me to immediately stop considering helping them is asking me to figure out what their future should be. Full stop.

Itemize your skills sets (including your law training) and your interests. Research possible careers that align with your skills. Narrow it down to (at most) 3 or 4 possibilities. Learn about those options. Then, when you network, and you meet someone who's career align with one of you options, tell them you are interested in their field, tell them why, and ask them questions. Do not say "that's one of four things i'm considering". They don't need to know. Pretend you're more focused than you are - fake it till you make it, as the old folks say.

You might not be ready for this occasion, so go and REALLY fake it. Just go and practice and listen. There'll be other opportunities to be more purposeful.
posted by Kololo at 9:30 PM on September 9, 2013

I think the best way for you to figure out what you want to do is to ask lots of people to tell you in detail about what they do.
posted by Dansaman at 10:05 PM on September 9, 2013

Go on LinkedIn and check out the skills list (the stuff people can endorse you for) and go through it. Make a comprehensive list of your skills.

Then go through the list and circle the ones you enjoy using. I like fiddling with Excel, it makes my left brain all quivvery. I'm not super-fond of doing repetative pivot-tables, but you get the idea.

Then, rather than some arbitrary title, think of a way of summerizing your skills and experience, "I'm an analyst working in the Blah industry and I'm moving to New City, I'm looking for a new position where I can use my Excel and skills. So, what do YOU do?"

If this is a job oriented networking event, that should work fine. If it's just a hob-nob business card exchange, just ask people about themselves and gather up those cards. Then go to the websites of the business on the cards and see if there are any positions that appeal. Then call the person and network more extensively.

No one at this event it going to hire you on the spot for anything, it's just a way of getting into new places.

FWIW, most of the jobs I've had, I didn't know I wanted them until I saw them advertised.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:36 AM on September 10, 2013

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