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Insights: How to Find a Mentor to Help you Change Career Paths

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Ask the Expert! Through WISE Insights,Connect with knowledgeable experts to receive honest and thoughtful answers to your career-related questions, or read about challenges your peers are facing.

Question

Submitted by: WISE NYC Metro member | Up to 6-15 years professional experience

I work in a career field that does not seem to have any transferable qualities to what I want to do. I know it's tough to change both careers and industries, but am LONGING for the change. And though I know it's difficult to get into the sports industry, I'm always told there are plenty of positions available — which is then followed up with who you know. I've been in WISE for two years, but possibly because I am not in the sports industry, have not had a mentor to work with. How do you suggest someone who works full-time, whose current industry is not supportive of a career move, and does not have a mentor to get some leeway into networking with folks in key hiring positions?

Answer

This is a common question from people wanting to make a move into a new area. It can be challenging, but it isn’t impossible if you have a plan. Here are my suggestions:

First, utilize your WISE membership and attend as many functions as you can. This is a great way to meet people and network within the industry. Try not to focus on just meeting the key hiring people (most obvious being human resources) but take every meeting as an opportunity to connect.

People love to talk about how they pursued their career, so strike up a conversation. Ask if you can visit them in their office for 30 minutes to talk about how they got where they are and any advice they might have. Do NOT ask for a job. As soon as you do, barriers automatically go up and a meeting is less likely to happen. Often, the simple reason is that they may not be hiring.

Approach the meeting from the perspective of learning and gathering information. For example, ask:

  • questions about their career path
  • what they’ve learned
  • what courses they’ve taken
  • who they would recommend that you connect with (and then connect with those contacts for an informational interview, even if you can’t see an immediate link to your desired role

Jobs, in any industry, come through who you know and that 30-minute conversation may, further down the line, turn into the role you want. Stay in touch with your contacts and let them know what you’re up to so you’ll be on their mind for any opportunities they may come across.

Second, think about the type of job you want and don’t discount your skill set, which is likely transferable to some degree. There are many different types of roles in sports and your first step is to get inside, even if it is doing what you are doing now. For example, if your background is in finance, then pursue a finance role at a sports organization, even if your goal is an events position. Once you get a foot inside the door, you can prove yourself and go from there.

Target the companies you want to work for and be methodical in chasing those people and leads down. Keep track of who you’ve spoken with and what you’ve discussed so you don’t get confused.

Finally, be realistic. Sometimes, you have to take a step back in order to move forward. If an opportunity arises that pays less or is lower in seniority than what you are doing now, don’t reject it if it could lead you to where you want to go. Or, try volunteering at the company so you can see how it operates. Volunteering can be a great way in, too.

Good luck!

Jane Hollman

About Jane Hollman

Jane Hollman has more than 25 years experience in senior human resources roles at large multinationals and sports across Asia Pacific and the United States. Currently a career coach, she helps business leaders and university students think through their career paths. Hollman is passionate about creating flexible, innovative work places and mentors women looking to start their own businesses. She is also a freelance writer covering the business of sports for publications such as Women Talking Sports.

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