I carefully prepared for this, but I am still nervous. I came up with questions to ask. I rehearsed how I would naturally bring them up so it would seem like I hadn’t come up with questions to ask. In front of me is my phone (charged!), laptop (charged!), and a pen/paper for taking notes on the call. I debate drawing a line in the middle of the page to separate wisdom gleaned (top of page) and scorching hot business contacts (bottom), but decide to handle that on the fly. My children? Tucked in, sleepy, a bedtime success. I write 8:30 at the top of the page as a reminder that my new business-friend will likely expect the conversation to stick to a half an hour. It is time. The phone does not ring. Ten minutes pass, still nothing. After thirty minutes with no call it becomes obvious. I have been stood up.
This phase of trying to break into a new profession centers on LinkedIn. The goal is to find people on the site who work in my target field, attempt to connect with them, then set up a phone call. The main objective of the phone call is to generate other connections, via this person, whom you can also get on the phone. Then repeat the process, essentially building a network from the ground up. And every step of the way is a chance for opportunity to knock, because eventually someone will know someone who is looking to hire someone just like me. It is a clever solution to the problem facing me as this undertaking begins: I need to enter a career path in its middle. My resume is unrelated, I do not know anyone in the profession, and I do not know much about it. Hence operation LinkedIn.
Get people on the phone. Try to talk as little as possible to avoid revealing that I have no idea what I am talking about. Learn the language of this line of work, get familiar with the culture, and eventually get comfortable seeming like I belong. It is the Fake It Till You Make It strategy. So, here goes:
Day One: Sign up for LinkedIn. Create my profile. Debate what to do about the profile photo, given the pandemic home-haircuts. Next, find as many people (that I already know) to connect with as I can. Friends, family, former classmates, literally anyone. I just need to fill out my network, so that when I begin reaching out to complete strangers I do not seem like I’m trying to sell them something.
Day Two: Find companies that match my interests, locate them on LinkedIn, then bring up the list of people that work there. It is hard to decide who to reach out to. Do I start with the CEO? Or the most junior employees? I have no idea who is more likely to respond to me and also be a useful connection. I decide to aim somewhere in the upper-middle, which looks to be “Vice Presidents”. There are, surprisingly, mountains of vice presidents in these companies. Each one gets an individualized message attempting to convince them to have a chat sometime. I include anything in their profile that we have in common (undergrad, interests, etc).
Day Three: No responses yet, but it has only been one day and these are busy people. I find more old friends to connect with to expand my network. Then more reaching out. More crafty messages. These are the ones that are bound to work.
Day Four: Uh oh, still nothing. I am starting to worry that these people are having company-wide meetings to discuss the lunatic who keeps messaging them asking to have a chat. Does this method really work? Doubt is creeping in. Doesn’t matter, I need to trust the process. Just. Keep. Going. More messages. I focus on people with either an M.D., D.O., or PhD.
Day Five: A hit! Someone accepts my connection request and is willing to talk. It is the only one in a sea of silence, but it rejuvenates me. They are willing to talk tonight. I find out everything I can about this person, prepare questions to ask, etc.
Day Five, evening: Refer back to the first paragraph. The call does not go as planned.
Day Six: I am starting to really waver. This all feels silly, and I have no idea what I am doing. On the other hand, what else am I going to do? The worst that can happen is I fail, and I am not going to fail without giving it my best effort. Just. Keep. Going. I realize that my first connection, though they stood me up, is nonetheless a part of my network. This means that they will show up as a “mutual connection” for anyone I reach out to that also knows them. It is a first little crack in the barrier to entry. I try to connect with anyone that shares this mutual connection.
Day Seven: Success! A relative avalanche of people (three!) agree to connect and chat sometime. I am the belle of the ball.
After Action Report: I am beginning to see how this can work. Building connections on connections, talking to as many people as I can. Waiting until serendipity decides it is my turn to stumble into a real opportunity, and meanwhile learning as much as I can about a new field. Nothing is guaranteed – all three people may stand me up, too. But I am starting to see the process. The real lesson is that the transition to a new career will not just roll downhill on its own. I will need to keep pushing forward, even when it feels fruitless. No matter what: Just. Keep. Going!