I suspect that the vast majority of us hate networking. It can feel icky, and more than that, the concept is pretty opaque. Most folks know it means connecting with people that might be able to help them get a job or advance in their career, but how? 

I’m with those who just aren’t into networking in the traditional sense. BUT the murmurings you might hear about a hidden or secondary job market are true. Many, many jobs are never posted online and are filled through word of mouth. 

But how do you tap into the hidden job market if you are intimidated or put off by the idea of networking? 

So many teachers I work with cite a lack of confidence or a feeling of imposter syndrome when they interface with professionals outside of the classroom. I get it! And perhaps surprisingly, I say, leverage that lack of confidence. Use it to your advantage. 

Hear me out. When you are a teacher (or any job market hopeful!) looking to change careers, you need the advice, guidance, and insider information that the folks you are intimidated by can provide for you. Acknowledging the fact that you are in learning mode, that you are brand new to a particular industry you are interested in, and that you don’t currently have professional contacts in that field can be used to your advantage. 

#1, it gives you a reason to reach out to folks you’d like to network with. 

#2, people naturally like to help each other. By reaching out and acknowledging your newbie-ness, you activate that helping impulse in others. 

Alright, so what does this look like in practice? 

Let’s imagine Tamara is interested in a job as a UX Designer. She’s not really sure what the job entails or how to break into the field, but she’s drawn to it and wants to explore more. 

Tamara can go to LinkedIn, search “UX Designer,” and find thousands of profiles. Then she can reach out to a handful of folks and cold email them. If Tamara is feeling sheepish about the cold email, she might even search Linkedin for “UX Designer” “Southern Mississippi State University” where she attended college to find someone in the role with whom she has something in common to help make the introduction. 

Likewise, Tamara could ask everyone she knows if they know any UX Designers and get referrals. 

An introductory email can be quite short and sweet: “Hi, I am a teacher looking to transition into a career in UX Design and I came across your profile and your work doing XYZ caught my eye. If you’d have 15 minutes or so for a virtual coffee, I’d love to hear about how you got started in this career and about some of the work you’ve done.” 

(You might need to sign up for a LinkedIn Premium trial to message some people). 

To prepare for the informational interview:

  • Research the company.
  • Research the person.
  • Come up with thoughtful questions. 
  • Dress to impress. 
  • Don’t ask for a job, ask for advice.

The types of questions I’ve asked when informational interviewing are the following: 

  • How did you get started in this career? What was your career path like? 
  • What is your typical day like in this role? 
  • Are there certain qualities you think someone needs to do this kind of work? 
  • Do you have advice for someone trying to break into the field? 

And most importantly, be an active listener. Ask follow up questions about what they’re mentioning. Have you ever heard the saying, to be interesting, be interested? Well it’s true! By actively listening and asking thoughtful follow-up questions, you’ll leave a good impression AND you’ll learn a lot. 

Teacher career changers looking to quit teaching and find a new career can also benefit from networking via informational interviewing in another key way: you build your confidence, because you realize the folks you’re talking to are just regular people. And I should also say that you also learn, just through listening, some of the key terminology in the field that you can follow up on and you start to get a sense of what the role is really like just through hearing about it from the horse’s mouth. 

The last things I’ll leave you with: 

  • Ask for referrals. 
  • Follow up w a thank you
  • And keep in touch! (I have a friend who keeps a spreadsheet of everyone she interfaces with and she periodically emails those who she hasn’t talked to recently to touch base and keep her contacts “warm.” Pretty extra, but also pretty brilliant) 

Happy pain-free networking!