This is a guest post by by Kristin Schuchman
Career transition journeys are more enjoyable when we open ourselves up to possibilities for connection along the way—new sights and sounds, breathtaking vistas, novel experiences, and interesting people we might meet from time to time, as well as the ones we may find ourselves reconnecting with after absence from our lives. As our intended destination gets clearer, and our ability to articulate the opportunities we are hoping to land becomes stronger, the more likely our network can be of service.
Few of us love the word “networking,” which conjures up images of glad-handing, back-slapping, and nudging-and-winking inauthenticity, but it helps to reframe the concept. Think of networking as a quest to meet people who know about your areas of interest.
Some of this quest (networking) will feel structured (informational interviews, formal networking events, job fairs) and some of it will be more casual (meetups, happy hours, coffee dates). Initially, the quest will be expansive and exploratory. Later, when you have a focused career goal and are searching for jobs, you may return to many of the same individuals for additional, more targeted advice. When you meet with people—new and established connections—they can help you more when you deliver an engaging yet specific statement of your skills and the field you are targeting. Some people call it an elevator pitch, but I prefer to call it a basic message.
We would like to think that people will remember our new career plans after we tell them once, but this is rarely the case. You will need to repeat your basic message repeatedly to people who knew you in your past career and to work on making it engaging and, well, believable. You may have to help people connect the dots, especially if you’re making a drastic change like moving from graphic design to naturopathic medicine. People will want to support you, but you have to make the case for why this change makes sense and deliver it with conviction and enthusiasm.
The key to an effective basic message is to choose words that convey: 1. your core strengths, passions, and skills; 2. the field in which you want to use them; 3. the people or cause you wish to serve; and 4 the problems you seek to solve. When you have carefully crafted a basic message that sounds natural and pleasing, role-play it with a trusted friend or career coach in the form of a conversation, which is usually how it’s presented. Then, challenge yourself to say it often in different setting and contexts. Keep practicing it until it’s not only succinct and accurate, but also compelling and memorable.
When you start sharing your basic message in networking settings, resist the tendency to: 1. repeat too often the story of how your last job ended; 2. reveal your utter confusion about your next steps; or 3. complain about the competitive job market. Chelsea Handler wisely said on her Netflix show Chelsea, “Not everyone deserves your truth.” Leave the messy past and the horror stories where they belong—shared only with a few intimate, well-trusted people who will help you make sense of them and then point your way toward a better horizon.
The optimal basic message is strengths-based and future-focused and is delivered with a “hell, yes” timbre in your voice. Don’t wait until you have a super-specific job goal; begin using it when you have a few points of clarity. Here are some examples from four successful job seekers.
State the core skills and experience you want to bring to the next job:
• Albert: Background teaching college-level journalism and top-notch research, writing, and public speaking skills
• Becca: Several years as an executive-level secretary with outstanding organizational and leadership skills, computer skills, and a knack for mentoring and connecting people with opportunities
• Carrie: Stellar interpersonal skills, strong administrative skills, attention to detail, and a long career in human retargets
• Diane: A seasoned PR pro with countless media connections, event-planning and fundraising chops, and a strong appreciation of architecture and sustainable building
List one to three fields in which you can picture yourself and/or passions that would give you purpose:
• Albert: Nonprofit/government agencies that provide low-income people with basic needs
• Becca: Arts, spiritual, or higher-education organization
• Carrie: Green-collar job creation, entrepreneurship, and combatting climate change
Put these together into a coherent basic message:
• Albert: I plan to use the research, writing, and public speaking skills that I developed teaching journalism in a position in government or a nonprofit to advocate for families with children on the autism spectrum and raise awareness about the needs for services to help them thrive and succeed.
• Becca: I would like to bring my organizational, leadership, and computer skills and passion for connecting people with retargets to an organization that is focused on the arts, spirituality, or education.
• Carrie: I want to use my blend of people skills and strong administrative capacity to encourage the growth of job and entrepreneurial opportunities in sustainability and agriculture, with a focus on promoting strong labor unions.
• Diane: (Sometimes you will create more than one basic message.):
Basic message #1:
I would like a position with an organization focused on sustainable building and affordable housing that makes use of my PR, media, event-planning, and fundraising skills.
Basic message #2:
I am seeking a position in which I can apply my passion for international issues and my leadership, PR, communication skills, and event experience.
Basic message #3:
I see myself thriving in an organization that lets me leverage my public relations, development, and event-planning skills and strong media connections to promote sustainable home-building or environmental protection.
Keep refining your message over time as you realize how it lands with people and as your clarity improves. Continue to develop other basic messages to use in different contexts, considering how different skills are specifically applicable to certain fields and positions.
Use the space below to try out your own spoken basic message. This short script can get you started.
“I would like to use my ______________ and _______________ skills and my _____________ experience to ___________ [verb like “help,” “solve,” “find,” “connect,” “create,” or “teach”) _______________ [population being helped/problem being solved/solution being found] ___________ [verb + problem(s) you are solving].
I would like to work for an organization that _________________ or I am starting a business to help _________________ [individuals who…/businesses that…/nonprofits that… ].”
“I would like to use my marketing and public relations skills and my counseling experience to help people in career transition find work that is meaningful, engaging and allows them to express themselves yet thrive financially. I am starting a business to work with artists, creative professionals and individuals seeking mission-driven careers.”
“I would like to use my graphic design skills and programming experience to create video games that teach children on the autism spectrum to practice their social skills and enhance their ability to interact interpersonally. I would like to work for a video game company focused on prosocial gaming.”
Hold it a bit loosely and rearrange the words until it sounds natural. Then, focus on making it more compelling. Add a sentence or two if you think it needs clarification but resist making it too wordy or jargon-laden.
Note: If you are in a profession that relies on complex jargon, practice a version for industry insiders and another one for laypeople. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dumbing it down; in fact, it’s arguably more challenging to describe technical information in a more accessible way.
Remember, as our ability to articulate the opportunities we are hoping to land becomes stronger, the more likely our network can be of service.
About the Guest Post Author:
Kristin Schuchman is a certified career and business coach and member of the Forbes Coaching Council. She has helmed successful businesses for more than twenty years, including the award-winning Nervy Girl magazine. She owns a career consulting practice called Spark a Career and a coworking space called Brightside Space. Her new book, Jump Start: How to redirect a career that has stalled, lost direction or reached a crossroads, offers a ten-step approach incorporating a mix of introspective workbook activities, reflective reading on factors that contribute to long-term professional engagement, and an overview of industries that offer creative expression and meaning, in a tactical how-to manual on poising oneself for a career change. Learn more at KristinSchuchman.com.