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The first step you need to take when changing careers—it's the 'best thing' to do, says Yale expert

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If you've ever thought about quitting your job and exploring a new path, now is a great time to switch careers.

Businesses typically refresh their hiring budgets at the start of the year, meaning there are more job opportunities to explore, and with travel slowing down after the holidays, more people are unencumbered and willing to network, making it easier to strike up meaningful connections.

It can be daunting to do a career 180, but recent shifts in the labor market — companies getting rid of degree requirements for jobs and the explosion of remote working — have made it easier for job switchers to transition into different fields, says Joanne Lipman, a lecturer at Yale University.

Here is one immediate step you can take to kickstart your search if you want to pivot careers but don't have a new one in mind or know where to begin: 

Reach out to 'weak' and 'dormant' ties

When pivoting careers, consider reaching beyond your inner circle.

Conversations with close friends won't yield the most valuable insights, says Lipman, who is also the bestselling author of "NEXT! The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work."

When you're looking for a fresh perspective or new opportunities, Lipman says the "best thing" you can do is talk to your "weak" and "dormant" ties: Weak ties are people you know casually but aren't close with (for example: a neighbor or an old classmate), while dormant ties are people you once knew but lost touch with.

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"Those acquaintances are the ones that can look at your situation differently and suggest something new for you to try, or introduce you to other opportunities that might help you," Lipman explains.

If you're struggling to identify a weak tie, ask friends or family to suggest people who are passionate about their jobs or in a similar field as you that you can chat with, says Erin McGoff, a New York-based career educator.

"You can post a networking request on LinkedIn or Instagram, or if you have a list of industries you're interested in, you can text people and just say, 'Hey! I'm looking to transition careers, and am interested in learning more about working in tech (or whatever the industry is), do you know anyone I can chat with?'" McGoff suggests.

Be specific and realistic

In any networking conversation, it's important to set a clear intention and temper your expectations.

"It's rare to reach out to a total stranger for a coffee chat and leave that meeting with a job offer in hand," says Lipman.

Instead, think of networking as intelligence gathering: Someone might be able to recommend a potential career path that aligns with your interests, or transferable skills to highlight at the top of your resume. 

McGoff stresses that the more specific you can get about what you're looking for in a new career, the better help you'll receive. 

"Before networking, take stock of your current career and write down 10 pros you can't live without in a job and 10 cons you can live with, whether it's an unsupportive boss or working from an office," McGoff explains. "Then use that to craft an elevator pitch that tells people who you are, what you bring to the table, and what you're looking for, to guide those conversations."

She offers the following example: "I'm a fourth-grade teacher looking to pivot into tech, specifically marketing or HR-adjacent roles at larger tech companies where I can lean into my analytical thinking, artistic and communication skills." 

Being specific in your request, McGoff says, shows that you're prepared, serious and respectful of the other person's time. 

Lipman agrees. "You don't want to make demands of their time that are unrealistic," she says. "Ask for a 10-15 minute chat, and include a bulleted list of what you're hoping to discuss, like their experience at a certain company, or how they use their degree in their current role."

Networking might feel uncomfortable, but it can be a game changer for changing careers.

"Weak ties are like bridges for your career, they provide easier access to new, helpful information," says Lipman. "Most of the people I know who pivoted careers successfully didn't find their new job from the people closest to them, but through those weak and dormant ties … they're more powerful than you think."

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