Remember the infamous scene in Jerry McGuire where Tom Cruise is standing in a locker room, begging Cuba Gooding Jr. to stop shooting his own career in the foot? You know the line: “Help me help you!”
Many of us have family and friends who don’t really understand what we do for a living. I personally have a cousin who can’t explain her own husband’s job. We often recognize that those around us don’t really appreciate our professions, but in some cases it seems easier to just let them say “Oh, he does computer stuff”, or “She’s some kind of an accountant.” However, not explaining what you do to those closest to you can come back to bite you when it comes time to search for a job.
Let’s say you’re a Web designer and your aunt lovingly refers to you as a “computer guy”. Your aunt may also know that her next door neighbor is a “computer guy”. Suppose that, in trying to help you out, she badgers her neighbor and finally convinces him to talk to you about a job. It’s very nice of her to be looking out for you; but unfortunately, if the neighbor runs a company that manufactures microchips for cell phones, this contact might turn out to be a waste of everyone’s time and energy.
If you’re looking to transition your career into a different field or different type of company, you need to be particularly proactive about letting your network know what you’re looking for. The same is true if you’ve been using your degree to work in a company known for something else. For instance, if you’re an accountant who works for the local hospital system, your contacts need to be clear that you’re looking for accounting positions and not medical ones.
Communication is the key to helping your network help you with your job search. Letting your contacts and references know specifically what you’re looking for will optimize the chances of their connecting you to something useful. As your job search progresses, you can send your contacts e-mail updates about places you’ve applied or interviewed. That will help them mentally connect the dots about the types of positions you’re targeting. It may feel awkward to regularly remind your network that you’re still looking, but it’s much less embarrassing than having to get yourself out of a situation that a well-meaning contact never should have gotten you into!
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