If you want to change careers, you may wonder how to introduce yourself, when a common networking introduction is simply name and current job title (i.e., the title you don’t want anymore).
This anxiety on how to introduce yourself deters people from networking altogether, or might cause an aspiring career changer to mention everything but their target new field. However, if you don’t mention the change you want to make, people will not remember you in the right field or have the chance to refer you to opportunities or information that you might actually want.
Networking is critical to job search and career change.
Therefore, it is critical to develop a networking introduction that embraces your career change and lets other people know about the new you and your new interests. At the same time, you still want to sound interesting and credible, which might be tougher but is certainly not impossible when you’re changing careers. Here are some guidelines for how to introduce yourself when the identity you have is one you want to shed:
Mention the reason behind your interest
Your introduction doesn’t need to be about what you’ve done. It can simply state what you want to do and what prompted you to enter this field.
Let’s say you’re a reporter looking to move onto the PR side, so you attend a PR association event. Surrounded by experienced PR professionals, you are not going to win on experience! However, you can talk about the why behind your transition, “As a reporter, I interacted with PR folks a lot and am interested on being on the other side of the pitch this time!”
Ask thoughtful questions
The goal of introducing yourself is to get a chance to know the other person, so you actually don’t want to do much of the talking.
You can simply state your interest, so it’s clear – “Hi, I’m a reporter for X but interested in the PR industry. How are you involved with NAME of PR Association?” Then when the other person elaborates on what they do, you ask thoughtful questions about their PR work (which you can readily do because you are genuinely interested and therefore have researched their world).
Smart questions make you sound less of an outsider and more of a peer.
Share activity, if not outright experience
Just because you’re not officially working in your target career field doesn’t mean you’re not doing anything relevant.
Talk about an article you read, a workshop you attended, or an idea that you heard from an expert you networked with. If you’re volunteering or consulting, talk about your project. Most career changers that I know are further along than they realize in their new target field, but they shy away from speaking with authority because they don’t have a string of paychecks or years of paid experience.
Just because you’re a beginner or currently unpaid in the area doesn’t mean you are an impostor.
Remember that a networking introduction is just a beginning. You’re trying to start a conversation. You don’t need to share everything about you and what you know in one short burst. Say enough that you associate yourself in your new field. Then focus on the other person, on developing rapport, on listening actively, and all the good networking technique you already know that is irrespective of your current career.
UPDATE: For more on my own career changes, I wrote about my career change after 40 and yes, I did have to change how I introduce myself, my LinkedIn profile, and more. You have to embrace the new you!