You know that your network is a vital part of your career development. But what happens when you’ve decided to follow your passion to a totally different career? What if you’re trying to change to a whole new industry, one where you don’t even have any weak or dormant ties?
You may not be able to start with a connection or a “friend of a friend,” but there’s still a lot of insights from the world of network science (and covered in my book) that do apply.
First things first, you need to find the clusters.
Humans cluster around each other for a variety of reasons. In a work context, they build clusters and social circles around industry, sector, occupation, identity, past education, and more. Which means if you want to network into a new industry, you’ve got to find the right cluster to join.
My good friend Pamela Slim actually has a great way to think about these clusters and how you can pursue them. She calls them the “watering holes.” Where do people who do what you want to do gather? What conferences do they attend? What regular kind of trade association meetings do they attend? Like animals that wander the fields of the Sahara, at a certain time everybody gathers around the same point to refuel (water in the case of animals; continuing education in the case we’re using it).
For almost every industry, there is a national trade group and then there are subchapters. Those subchapters meet on a regular basis. For most of them, its Monday or Wednesday at lunch time in a hotel ballroom or private room of a large restaurant. (I’m not sure how we settled on that, but it’s a pretty common pattern.)
There are even trade associations for people who work for trade associations. (You think I’m kidding…but I’ve spoken at their conferences.)
You usually don’t even have to be a member of the trade association to attend the first few times—because they want to use the meeting to recruit you. And if you’re serious about changing careers into this industry, you want to be recruited.
Even if there isn’t a formal group, there’s always an informal place where people who do that work gather. So, start with the watering holes. It would be great if you could find a current contact to tag along with. But if not and you have to show up and meet strangers for the first time, don’t fret. The whole point of these watering holes is to learn something and meet new people. And if you show up wanting to learn something about the people you just met, you’ll be even better off.
Find the clusters. Start regularly attending whatever events draw people in your desired industry together. And you’ll find that in virtually no time, you’ve begun to build a network into that industry.