If you’re looking to make a career change or simply get to know new people, learning to connect with others beyond your industry is one of the most important skills to learn. In fact, more than half of professionals say they gained employment through a personal contact—most often through someone in the very company or industry they ended up in.
Of course, networking in a new industry can feel intimidating at first! With totally new people, and different industry interests and lingo, it’s understandable to feel like a fish out of water.
No worries. Here are our top tips for forming a genuine connection with someone in a completely different field. It’s easier than you may think!
First thing first: get yourself out there! Strong connections come through in-person contact and face-time, so immerse yourself in your new industry setting as much as possible. Job shadow a few people in your desired field, search for new professional events and meetups, or invite potential contacts to coffee. Not sure where to start? Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have great leads for industry events. You can also search Hoppin for job shadow experiences that will help you branch out and explore.
Focus on your weak ties. Studies have consistently shown: if you’re looking to make a career change, your weak ties are more likely to help you get a job than your strong ties. While your strong ties are people you know well, like your friends and everyday co-workers, your weak ties are acquaintances at the periphery of your network. Weak ties play an important role in bridging different social groups—your casual friends and friends-of-friends can be key to making connections in a new industry!
Be upfront. When networking in a new industry, be transparent about your knowledge and experience. Let your contacts know you’re new and eager to learn more. They’ll be primed to be a bit more patient and willing to show you the ropes.
Bring a “gift”No, not a literal one :) Expert networker Molly Beck suggests always having something to offer when you’re trying to connect. “Gifts” include: a compliment, a resource recommendation, free advice, press opportunity, or something else your target may find valuable. “It is human nature to want to reciprocate gift giving,” Beck says in her book Reach Out: The Simple Strategy You Need to Expand Your Network and Increase Your Influence. So when you approach someone from a place of generosity, they are more likely to help you out as well.
Know your ask. When you’re networking in a new industry, it isn’t always immediately apparent why someone might invest their time with you. That’s why it’s important to connect with purpose. What types of people are you trying to connect with? What are you hoping to learn? What ultimately do you want to achieve? Maybe you are looking to land a new job, gain clarity around a possible new career passion, or learn a new skill or topic. With these goals in mind, think of a relatively small, feasible “ask” you can request. This sets you up for informed conversations and makes it easy for your contacts to help you out if they can.
Do your homework.You may not be an expert in the industry or the person you’re looking to connect with, but you can brush up on the basics! Read up on the latest industry news, check out a trade publication, and set up Google alerts for key companies and industry figures. Keeping a pulse on the latest field-specific conversations helps you bypass superficial chit-chat and get straight to more engaging dialogue.
Leverage the unique and transferrable. Consider your unique strengths and expertise from your previous professional experience. Now challenge yourself: how might these apply in the context of a completely different field? What transferable skills do you possess? From marketing tactics and tech skills, to organizational tips and culture-building experience—there’s plenty of fresh perspective you can add to the conversation.
Shine the spotlight on others.Go beyond neutral networking questions like “what do you do?” and “how long have you been working at your current job?” Focus on the individuality of the person in front of you, so you can connect on a deeper level. Ask them their opinion on a hot industry topic. Be curious about their past experience and what led them to their job today. Find out what their favorite and least favorite part of their work day is.
Keep the connection warm and balanced. The best relationships are nurtured over time. After your initial meet, send a quick follow-up email to thank your contact for their time and to make sure they have your contact information. From there, consider natural (and non-intrusive) opportunities to check-in and keep them informed of where you are and what you’re doing. And of course, always connect from a spirit of generosity. Offer your assistance, share relevant tips and resources, and be a connector for others as well. Even a supportive note during a critical time, like a big presentation or event, can make a lasting impression.
Networking in a new industry is a fantastic way to grow your career and explore new opportunities. You’re putting yourself out there, and you’re going to do great. You’ll be a pro in no time!