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Networking to Make Good Career Choices


Enda Goodwin
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There are a number of methods available for obtaining the career information you need to make good career choices. Libraries and the Internet are usually a good starting point. But it's important to move beyond them to real-time conversations with knowledgeable people. Networking is an essential intelligence-gathering activity:

  • Talk to personal contacts. Identify friends and colleagues who might have knowledge of your skills and of the kind of work you've been doing. Ask about other professions in which they see you working in the future.
  • Talk to contacts in your industry. Select two or three professional contacts inside your industry. Ask them what they believe the market is like for people who do what you do. Ask them to help you assess how up-to-date you are in your own skills. Talk with them about their views on the long-term viability of your profession. Ask them to help you understand what opportunities might exist for people with your skills at both larger and smaller organizations than the one you've just come from. Ask about other professions in which they see you working in the future.
  • Talk to contacts in other industries. Locate two or three professional contacts outside your industry. Ask how the work you've been doing is performed in their industry. Ask about the skills and backgrounds of people who perform that kind of work in their industry. Ask them to help you assess the impact that technology has had (or will have) on your profession. Ask about other professions in which they see you working in the future.
  • Explore possible new professions. Ask your personal and professional contacts to introduce you to people who are currently in a new profession that you might be considering. Ask those people about the state of their profession, how it is changing, how technology is impacting it. Talk to them about the "barriers to entry" and what would be required for you to "get from here to there." Talk to them about the everyday experience of their work. Ask them to help you assess what roadblocks you might face in making the transition and what you might be surprised to learn once you got there.
  • Use professional associations. Contact the association that focuses on your profession or the profession you're considering. Ask them what kinds of materials they publish. Many do annual "state-of-the-profession" surveys, which can be extremely valuable to job seekers who are trying to get conversant in the challenges facing their own profession, or to learn about a new profession.

Networking to obtain salary information

Using your network is a good way to obtain salary information. Here are four thought-starters.

  • Identify friends and colleagues who might have knowledge of the kind of job you're targeting. Ask them what they believe the market can bear for a particular job. People may be uncomfortable talking about you personally. Instead, describe the job you're considering and the skills it requires. Ask them if they've ever used an online salary calculator that they thought was fairly accurate - if so, which one?
  • Ask your professional contacts what they believe the market can bear for a particular job. Ask them what sources of salary information or benchmarks they use to determine fair range when they have a need to fill a position.
  • Ask your professional contacts how salaries in a particular industry or at a specific company compare to the norm. Gather intelligence from your contacts about overall compensation-not just salary patterns-in your target industry or company. This kind of information will help you formulate your negotiation strategy later on.
  • Contact the professional or industry association whose members have the kind of job you are targeting (it may not be the one to which you currently belong). Ask them if they publish a salary survey. If they don't, ask them who does. This technique yields results almost every time!
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