Networks…we all know about them, are part of them and create them.
In my previous article, I wrote about how I ended up as what I now term a Career Adventurist – exploring different roles, industries and sometimes doing two or three things at the same time. I did this by accident, and it took me more than 17 years to understand how I did it, why it was a blessing in disguise (despite the naysayers), and how I want to help others find their way through the murky unconventional career path, when they decide to break out of their profession.
What’s a weak tie?
One of the KEY things about my career path was it forked in really random directions. This was essentially because of the principle of the strength of the weak tie. Based on Mark Granovetter’s work, strong ties are our friends, family and people we connect with closely, while our weak ties are acquaintances, like someone you met at an event and don’t really keep in touch with regularly, or a friend of a friend you met over dinner.
Strong ties narrow | Weak ties broaden
All my career moves were due to weak ties (over time, most of them have become strong ties!) The reason behind this is that strong ties in networks tend to be more homogeneous – close friendships may have formed in high school or a hobby, and so you are more likely to have similar interests, tastes, connections, and access to information.
While this strong connection makes for a heartier dinner conversation, it could also mean that you miss out on information or opportunities that fall outside the locus of your focus.
Conversely, if you spent time developing a larger number of weak ties, then this potentially allows you access to new ideas or projects, areas of interest, people with differing opinions and thoughts.
Think about it this way…how many of you have interviewed for a job where you just didn’t have 15 years of experience in a specific skill, in a related industry, and basically the conversation with that hiring manager was a waste of time for both of you? People looking for specific skills in a narrow way, will focus on the strong ties. If you want to widen your career path, either because you are bored, curious or just feel it’s time for something different, you have to develop a wider network, with weak ties.
Without people in my wider network (sometimes those links were very tenuous indeed), my experience in different industries would have been looked at unfavourably – this theory was tested several times during interviews where it was obvious that those “15 years” of specific experience were all that mattered.
How to get started
If you’re even moderately interested in changing careers in a completely new direction, you probably have all those years of experience, so much so that you can do the job with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back… and there’s a creative spark in you that’s screaming to come out. It just doesn’t know how. Sound familiar?
First, you need to know what you want to move toward. This does not mean that you need a concrete action plan of industries and jobs to get into. What it does mean, is to take stock of your strengths, your intention for your life (“How do I want to feel about my life when I move? In 3 years? In 10 years?”; “What impact do I want to make?”), and the values that you stand by? I’ll talk a bit more about this in my next article.
Second, start casting your net further afield and grow your network. You don’t have to enjoy meeting new people all the time, nor do you need to attend mind-numbing networking sessions. Most people think I am an extrovert, but I actually detest networking sessions. Most of the time, I stand in a corner and leave as soon as I can. You also don’t need to be everyone’s best friend – weak ties, remember? What you should look out for are your “mavens” – people who are respected as experts or trusted sources, who do enjoy meeting people, who believe in you, and will help you build a network.
Third, you need the courage to SAY and believe that you want to step out. It takes a lot of courage to come out and say “I am tired of being a [enter profession] and want to see what’s out there”. It takes even more courage to take action (we’re jumping a few steps here but bear with me – don’t quit just yet), and yet MORE courage to stick with it. Trust me, I can’t count the number of times I looked at job postings in the past few years because I thought going back to a corporate job was the answer to the uncertainty I was facing, and the doubts being cast my way by well-meaning friends and former colleagues.
By doing these three things, you stand a stronger chance of making a successful career switch. Your unique combination of skills becomes clear to you and others; you will attract the attention of people and companies looking for those skills; and you will be on the minds of people who know people, who know other people (there are those weak ties again) who are looking for that special someone with the abilities they sorely need.
This post was originally published on Avalyn’s blog: https://www.avalynlim.com/
Avalyn Lim is an executive coach on the MBA, EMBA and Executive Education programs at INSEAD. She runs a coaching practice as well as a blog – careeradventurist.com – on managing portfolio careers, career transitions and identity in the workplace. With 20 years of corporate and start-up experience across multiple industries, she has held senior roles in branding, business development, e-commerce and B2B partnerships, without formally applying for a job. Avalyn graduated with a law degree from the National University of Singapore and is an alumna of the Tsinghua-INSEAD Executive MBA program.