WorkWise: Older worker in a new field? Build a network

January 16, 2014 

Sharon Hulce (center), president of Employment Resource Group Inc. in Appleton, Wis., reviews a list of executives with Paul Ristau (right), vice president, and Jenny Bonikowske (left), vice president of administration. Effective networking brought the candidates and firm together. Credit: Bill Garvin

Older workers striking out in new directions may need a completely new network, because the old one can't cross over. Current colleagues often don’t have information about the new area. This dilemma can become acute when isolation sets in.

Sharon Hulce understands this situation, especially as it impacts people moving in new areas related to technology. She’s president of the executive search firm Employment Resource Group Inc. in Appleton, Wis., which serves multiple industries. She also sits on the board of a technical college. Hulce focuses on two key factors in this situation: research and time.

Many of her senior candidates want a new career as they continue to work full-time.

“There’s always information to be found,” she says. “Look at every avenue possible to set yourself up as a thought leader. Do that through research and education, (which) take time. You have to be really good at researching and uncovering idiosyncracies. Most of the information will be general. Which people are investigating that? Become a student of that business and the mentor others are looking for. Glean (and repackage) that information.”

To begin to replace income rapidly, she advises gaining visibility through LinkedIn, trade show attendance or a conference speech. “It positions a person in the industry and their income rises very quickly,” Hulce observes, for being perceived as experts.

THE ‘HOW’

Your immediate problem is identifying the first contact in a field where you know no one. Be spirited. Princess Clark, president of Chicago, Illinois’ Princess Clark Consulting Inc., coached a man in his 50s who sold his business to cover medical expenses, then shifted from manufacturing to retail sales management.

“Being an older worker entering a new field is akin to jumping into a swimming pool at Coco Beach,” Clark explains. “You’re exposed, old and wrinkly and everyone else is fresh, strong and fit. You feel cold, but the easiest way to warm up is to join the young sharks at the other end of the pool.”

She suggested that her client “approach them in a fun, youthful way such as, ‘Can you help the old guy or gal out?’ Your sense of humor, commitment and courage will make a huge difference in attracting mentors, although they may be younger and have less work experience. They have the experience and skill set that you need. Respect them and they'll support you.”

If you’re entering a field with few visible leaders, you may not find the person to help pull you in the first time you try. Receive any opportunity graciously and thank the person enthusiastically. Let what you learned from each person steer you to the critical connection you need. Keep hunting for one person in the new field who understands where you’ve been and where you want to go.

You CAN build a network, even if you don’t know where you’re going. It’s critically important, especially if you are or are becoming an entrepreneur. “Other entrepreneurs make the road less lonely,” comments Melissa Thompson, CEO of the online counseling company TalkSession Inc., based in New York, N.Y. She mentions that you’ll need to collaborate, initially over identifying resources.

“Your network will become your partners, customers and brain trust,” she continues. “The inspiration and catalyst to move (beyond) a napkin idea will likely come from your network. Increasing the size of the pie of success begins with a trusted network.”

In other words, target your pond. Talk to someone. Think and analyze. Refine your target. Throw yourself into Google, the telephone, LinkedIn and email. Mine the neighborhood where people you need work. Be alert to opportunity and prepared to change your mind about what you’re doing when market feedback warrants it.

Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net.

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