Career Change by Network Literacy

Bill Gates once said:

“How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose”.

He was addressing how a company could gain a competitive advantage and this is true for career changers over 40 too. You need to know where you can access timely information when you require it. You need to collect useful intelligence during your career change and you can do this by talking to people in your networks. It is they who will assist you in understanding how your particular aspirations and skills can combine with the current employment market to secure your new career.

Network Intelligence

Hoffman and Casnocha (2012) refer to using ‘network intelligence’ for the start-up of you as people you know or who they know can act as your ‘fount of pivotal intelligence’. Your network is indispensable as a source of information, you get personal advice in context and people can help you select which information you require. What is also crucial is to develop “network literacy” so that you can take advantage of information flowing in and out of your networks. One individual’s power is exponentially increased by being in and taking an active role in a network and this is especially important during your career change.

Tapping Into Your Networks

You should be regularly tapping into your sources of information through your networks by directing specific questions to particular people in your network and also by asking a wider swathe of people some general questions. The latter could also act as a survey.  In terms of gathering information from specific sources, these could be people who know you extremely well such as family members or close friends; people who would be regarded as the experts in your field and other people you regard as smart and whose opinion you rate highly.

Diverse Networks

It’s important to maintain networks that are diverse, wide ranging and deep. This means you will be in contact with people from various backgrounds, in different industries and with varied political standpoints. When you converse with individuals in your network, ensure that you don’t only pose questions. Offer you own ideas and opinions so that you both have a more meaningful exchange.  This is not always appropriate with an employer so you may wish to confine yourself to questions.

Wide or Narrow Questions

Decide whether you are using wide criteria or narrow criteria in your questions to your network, in order to get the relevant answers.  Wide criteria could be one about the profession rather than a narrow question on whether you should take up a particular opportunity. It’s also useful to be aware of how you prime a question.  For example, you could ask “what are the three top things you like about the company I want to join?”  Or ask “what are the three top things you do not like about the company I wish to join?” Don’t forget to follow up and dig deeper until you get the answers you need.

When you are actively engaging in networking, whether in person or over the internet, you have more chance of encountering serendipitous events or opportunities. As well as engaging by asking questions, contribute to debates and post an article or blog where you are giving your networks small gifts.  They are then more likely to share their gifts of intelligence with you.

Reversing the Tables

Use the information you have gathered to intelligently make your career changeat40. One example is using your networks to vet the organisation that you are considering as a potential employer. You will be carrying out a reference check of an employer and reversing the tables! You will now have multiple flows of information which you need to synthesize to understand the bigger picture they make and how you can use them in your quest for a successful career change.

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