Part 2 of 4: Networking and Career Development in the Information Age (while Staying Sane and Natural)

In my introductory post to this series, I mentioned that I would explore the ideas of knowledge development, relationship development, and opportunity promotion in several contexts, relating to the professional world today.

​I’ll begin with the context of the job search and with my first principle of professional development: “Put human factors at the center of your career development strategy.” I am not arguing that this approach is the best for all. Just that it manifested itself for me under the distinct circumstances I will describe here, that it eventually proved itself effective, and that the relevance of the principle may be increasing in the professional world, or at least some parts of it.

The story begins with, and centers upon, the lack of focus and the professional uncertainty that challenged me not so many years ago. I was in the midst of some life/professional maneuvers that would ultimately take me from teaching second grade to working in the high-tech sector.

I had, at the time, certain quite general professional motivations, such as a desire be engaged in more cognitively challenging work, and to be better compensated. After taking a career risk or two too many, I decided that deciding on a career, per se, was not my forté. Of course, I could not, as I looked at my young family, neglect that determination either.

After moving states for my wife’s career, I began a job search in new environs. I tenaciously, and by necessity, focused on networking, beginning with my social network, and understood, of course, that I would need to deeply engage my conversational counterparts if I wanted them to help me find a job, or to provide me with an introduction to another contact.

I eventually determined that, instead of choosing a career path, a very difficult and confusing proposition for me at the time, I would put human relationships at the center of my effort. I would pursue multiple possibilities, at least somewhat relevant to my professional background, in so far as I could find promising leads that would support my continued effort in a particular direction. Eventually, I was able to sharpen my story–not out of a clearer idea of what I wanted to do but out of the necessity of holding people’s interest.

This is not to say that I neglected the truth. Just that I found ways to express investment—verbally, through reading, through gigs, or through volunteer work—in ways that resonated with my growing network, while still respecting my own desires albeit, yes, flexibly.

I volunteered, for instance, at the American Museum of Natural History as a survey researcher, not out of a deep desire to follow that career path, but due to the fact that I believed this experience would allow me to pitch myself more efficiently for the sorts of positions for which I was receiving bites.

Eventually, through trial and error, and via a focus on the dynamics of personal engagement, as opposed to the deliberate selection of a career path, I was able to land a position as a research associate at an education-related institute, based at a university in the New York area. The job was interesting and moderately well-paid. It provided the analytical engagement I had hoped to achieve in a new job, and, of course, it provided me with enhanced credibility as I continued to build my professional profile, albeit fitfully, but with a clear method now in hand.

The shift in perspective was subtle but it worked in this case, perhaps, as I have said, based on the peculiarities of my personality and/or circumstances. Still, I did eventually find that this same perspective and approach could be effective as my work circumstances, at least, became more traditional. I will describe those dynamics in the next post in this series.

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