In this article, Jerrie Lynn Morrison writes about networking as a strategy for career exploration and career change. She compares careers to relationships, a mindset that helps career explorers take the time they need to navigate through a life-changing transition.
Are you afraid of commitment?
I am—at least for the moment. I just got out of a 14 year relationship. Not the love-interest kind of relationship, but a relationship with my former career. I worked as a neuroscientist in the pharmaceutical industry for 14 years. I was recently laid off.
A long-term career is like a long-term relationship
Similar to an intimate relationship, in which a lover can sense that it will end long before the breakup actually occurs, I knew that my former career was winding down years before it actually ended. I worked for four different companies during my career as a neuroscientist, and I was lucky enough to stay one step ahead of being laid off from the first three companies. The recent economic crisis hit the struggling pharmaceutical industry hard, and left me with fewer options to stay on my career path. So when the last company I worked for shut down its entire Vancouver research site, I knew it was time to move on to something new.
Now the last thing I want to do is commit to a new career right away. I need time to heal from my last relationship.
Networking expands your world view
After going through the soul-searching that typically occurs with a break up, I decided that my next career move would likely involve writing. In order to find out what, exactly, that would mean, I started networking.
Originally my view of writing was very narrow. I thought that people were either published academics, published industry scientists, journalists or literary writers. I had no idea that there were more options to make a living as a writer beyond these categories.
Maureen Nicholson, director of the Print Futures: Professional Writing program at Douglas College, encourages her students to attend events hosted by professional associations. Not only is it a good way to find out more about a particular career and whether it is a good fit, it’s a way to find out what the people are like. “Networking at professional association events,” Nicholson tells her students, “lets you find out who your people are. Are editors your people? Or are business communicators your people?”
Networking is about listening: the more you listen to others, the more you learn about yourself
By networking in and around Vancouver, I have been able to test the waters of possible new careers before jumping in. Specifically, networking has allowed me to explore questions such as: Should I start my own business, or look for another “steady” job? What type of work environment would suit me: an independent freelance career, a large advertising agency, a small public relations firm, or the communications department of a non-profit organization?
By meeting people who already do the type of work I might be interested in, and listening as they tell me their stories, I can dip my toes into the waters of their world.
And the best part is that I don’t have to commit to a new career just yet.