Networking Primer IV: Gone Fishing

(I met with Lance as part of a Seattle Times “Career Makeover” series and wrote the following summary of our conversation for the journalist writing the story.)

I told Lance to go on a fishing trip.

A successful composer, he’s ready to do something else after 15 years of writing music professionally. Something a little more family friendly. After all, he’d like to see his kids every once in a while.

I’ve been living the dream,” he said about his music career. “I’ve accomplished a lot that I’m very proud of.” (You can hear the “but” just hanging out there.)

“But that dream fit better pre-kids,” I suggested.

I asked him what ideas he has for what’s next. As he described some options, I was struck by how flat they seemed for such a creative, resourceful person. They sounded like the kind of ideas you come up with sitting in a room by yourself.

“You need to go on a fishing trip,” I told him.

He looked at me blankly.

“You need to go talk to a lot of people. You need to get a lot of lines in the water,” I said.

I told him about a former client, a senior person as a large software company you may have heard of, who set a goal for himself of having 20 leads – 20 email conversations or scheduled coffees or interviews or introductions – going at any one time. “Twenty seems like a good rule of thumb,” I said.

My philosophy around career transition in general – and job searching specifically – is that it comes down to luck. It’s just luck that you happen to finally talk to person x who suggests idea y that leads you to person z – who hires you to do something great.

Your job search is all about creating your luck – helping luck find you. You just need to talk to people. You need to go fishing.

“I want you to start with a list of five what I call “nexus” people – people who know people,” I told Lance. “Don’t start editing whom you think might be helpful. You don’t know whom they know.” Set up coffees or drinks – in-person meetings if you can.

I suggested he think about these informational meetings as fishing trips: he has to throw a line in the water and just see what – if anything – he pulls up. Ideally, he pulls an idea of how he might leverage his music training (he can play any instrument!) in a more 9-to-5 business setting; or he pulls up a couple of names of whom to talk to next – and introductions.

Or maybe he just renews an acquaintance and gets his name top of mind with a very connected person – not a bad outcome for a cup of coffee.

“You’ll need to prepare for these meetings,” I explain. “You are likely to run into some variation of a couple of predictable questions. If you’re prepared with fluent, interesting answers, then your brain can be busy being smart doing something else, and you don’t stumble and lose confidence feeling like a jerk when you get these questions.”

  • What kind of work are you looking for? 

It’s okay to be vague here and speak in generalities. Aim for aspirational, so the successful, influential, and possibly intimidating person sitting across from you thinks, “Hmm, that’s really interesting, I kind of want that, too.”

I suggest to Lance that he could say something along the lines of “I’ve been thinking about making a career transition – to leverage my skills and experience in the music industry – into a more team-oriented, technical role. Right now I’m just exploring what that might look like – where the opportunities are – and would certainly welcome any ideas you might have.”

  • Why do you want to leave composing?

The answer to this one is something real and positive; in other words, say something true from a positive angle. Lance could say something like, “Composing has been a creative adventure with pretty wild highs and lows, and I think I’m ready for a break, for a more moderate role for awhile – at least while my kids are young!”

  • How can I help?

This is the ask – what you’re there for. But asking for help can be hard. Prepare in order to make the ask smoothly and fluently. You could start with a “flatter” and then ask for ideas and introductions.

Lance’s response could be something like, “You’ve had an interesting career trajectory and seem to have landed in a great spot. I’m curious how you made xyz transition and what ideas you might have for me as I figure out this transition.”

“This is a creative writing exercise,” I tell Lance. “You’re going to iterate on it until it sounds conversational and fluent and like you. And then you get to practice these scripts: practice them on the dog, on the tree outside, on your wife, on your friends – practice until your brain doesn’t have to be busy with it anymore.”

I caution Lance that each meeting will be different and will go off script pretty immediately, that he’ll be improvising, but that it can be extremely empowering to have the beginning of each predictable question mapped out and practiced.

I ask Lance’s permission to go coach-y. “It’s going to be a year from now, in about a year. We’ve stayed in touch and a year from now you come in to see me and tell me about your great year,” I say. “What are you going to tell me about? What do you already know?”

Lance tells me in detail about the team he’s working on, the full-time job at a technical company (“because I don’t have the wardrobe to go into a corporate culture,” he explains) doing fast-paced interesting work with a mission he can get behind.

He’s going to have a great time on his fishing trip. I can’t wait to hear about it.