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Network Building for Career Changers

You've been thinking about changing careers for years but are finally ready to take the plunge. So how do you do it? In order to properly answer it as well as help readers with what might be one of their most important decisions, we reached out to our experts in the field.

Marcelle Yeager, an up-and-coming human resources star on LinkedIn, said you need to be as smart about it as possible. Below is some of her specific advice.

Identify with your future career

"If you don't know where you're going, you don't know how fast you need to go to get there. That level of personal identification is essential when determining how a person should network when they're changing careers," Yeager says.

"You need to identify companies, organizations or [people] that stand out to you. The types of jobs you're really attracted to, even if it's not something you can get," she told us over the phone. You might look at a person like Tor Myhren, the vice president of marketing at Apple, as a model, for example, but you definitely won't get a job like his anytime soon. So you need to find out as much as possible about the career arc of that type of person in order to find what you need to do.

Preferably, Yeager says, you should reach out to that person and contact them directly. And while you probably won't get to talk to Myhren, there are many other reachable people you can find in your alumni groups, social networks or LinkedIn.

Questions you should ask while doing career identification research can include how they got into the field and what the company culture is like. "Having those kinds of discussions without any pressure can and does very often turn into future referrals," she says.

Apply everything you learn to your resume

Two of the big mistakes people make when building their network when switching careers is sending resumes to everyone and not adjusting their resumes.

"Sending generic messages to a bunch of different people, just copying and pasting without saying what interests you about them or their company in particular [is bad]," Yeager says.

Defining how your old skills and strengths can be used in your new career inside your resume in a proper way, with a specific format that is also appropriate for that new career, is imperative.

Dress for the new career

Switching careers can have a surprising effect on what you perceive as necessary work attire. Yeager recommends you research the common dress trends of the industry before you start to actually meet people in person or over the web.

A new career in tech for example, may find you wearing many more T-shirts and business casual wear than in other industries. And that's important because overdressing formally, in that particular industry example, might be seen as too fussy, old or uninventive in a manner that might affect your career trajectory.

"Do as the Romans do. Figure out if you're doing the appropriate thing. I wouldn't assume you can be super casual in any situation. And it also depends on what parts of the country you work in, as to what's acceptable and what's not," she says.

Seek out professional coaches

Many people today, especially online, advocate for people switching careers to seek out help from a coach. Yeager says career coaches can be good if you can establish the new industry network on your own. After all, not even the most talented coach will hold your hand into an awesome new career and cool jobs if you can't stand on your own.

You, therefore, have to come to your own conclusions about the skills and strengths you need to illustrate your career narrative to potential hiring officers in the new industry.

Yeager says her own work with coaches has been good because they only provide simple and practical advice. "She doesn't ask you tons and tons of questions but will offer advice where you seek it. It's not just about guiding you to where you want to go," she says.

Having trouble holding yourself accountable through deadlines might also be a good reason to hire one, she affirmed.

Carefully consider returning to school

Going back to school to change your career depends on the job you want and the industry you want to work in. A new school, especially at the graduate level, will certainly help you develop a whole network of people. And it might also help if you need to improve a specific skill you intend to use in the future, such as combining your natural feel for entrepreneurship with the time-worn structures for success you will learn at a business school.

But Yeager says you have to consider the cost, including the amount of time and money spent as well as in other opportunities you may miss.

"There are online courses, whether paid or free, that take a lot less time. It's going to depend on the types of jobs you're looking at and what the requirements say. But I think it's becoming less and less of a necessity to have to go to school to be able to switch careers," she says. Skills and experience, ultimately, are the most important thing for employers.

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