When making a professional change, people are inclined to be “flexible” and “cast a wide net.” They don’t want to limit their options or miss out on an opportunity. While it may seem counter intuitive, this approach can actually limit your opportunities.
This is especially true when you are networking and reaching out to your contacts. Even with a long list of people who are willing to help you transition into a new career, no one can help you get what you want, if you can’t tell them what that is.
You deserve a fulfilling and engaging career,
but only YOU have the POWER to decide what that is.
Let’s role play it.
Jeffrey and Susan are both at a networking event because they both want to leave their current jobs to pursue something new. They both start mingling and each strikes up a conversation with another networker and is asked what brought them to the event.
Jeffrey, what was your interest in coming here tonight?...
Jeffrey: I’m planning to leave my current position, and I am looking for my next opportunity.
Networker: That’s exciting! What kind of work are you looking for?
Jeffrey: I’m not sure. I might move to smaller company, or I may start my own business. I like a lot of social interaction, but autonomy is real important too. I’m leaving my options open.
Networker: Well, what do you like to do? What are you passionate about?
Jeffrey: I like helping people and being creative.
Networker: Okay, so what kind of people do you want to help?
Jeffery: Anyone really. I’m leaving my options open.
Networker: I see.
Jeffrey: Yeah, I’m open to anything, so if you hear of any great opportunities, keep me in mind.
Susan, what are you hoping to get out of tonight’s event?...
Susan: I’m planning to leave my current position to do consulting as an efficiency and sustainability expert for small businesses.
Networker: That’s exciting! What kind of businesses would you like to work with?
Susan: I have a particular interest in independent coffee shops because it is a growing market and I am passionate about coffee.
Networker: Why independent coffee shops and not a major chain like Starbucks?
Susan: I really like working with local businesses, and I’m not interested in traveling.
Networking: Wow! You’ve really thought this through. I know you said you’re focusing on coffee shops, but I have a good friend that does similar work for craft breweries. He’s looking for a partner. Can I put you in touch with him?
Susan: That would be great! Here’s my card.
Because Susan is clear on what she is looking for, the person she is talking to can do a quick mental scan of their rolodex and see if they have a match. If nothing else, she will leave a more memorable impression, and the people she connects with will have an excellent sense of what she is (and is NOT) looking for.
Though it can be tempting to “cast a wide net” and “leave your options open,” challenge yourself to narrow your focus to what you really want.
You deserve a fulfilling and engaging career, but only you have the power to decide what that is.