I’ve experienced a lot in my professional life: two career changes, two mentors, and 25 years of networking. From the outset of my career, I believed I’d make a real difference in corporate America, specifically when it came to helping solve the world’s problems. Instead, I became a technologist and spent my days trying to solve engineering problems. But right away, I felt something was missing.
I was put in a role working specifically with emerging technologies. At the time, I didn’t understand the projects’ technical elements. I had lots of ideas, though, that I would prototype and test. The problem: The feedback I gathered was limited. I had no access to experts in my field, or any other field, for that matter.
I was missing a strong network.
Since then, I’ve worked to build a network of supporters. As a result, I’ve been able to execute a number of professional shifts. I’ve moved from the tech world to corporate finance to venture capital. More than anything else, my success in switching careers has been because of my network.
When choosing a new career or chasing a wild professional dream, you’ll need a strong network, too. It’s possible; you just need the right tools.
Two heads are better than one
The easiest way to learn is by finding a teacher. As you plan your career switch, search for not one, but two mentors who can offer advice. Ideally, they are seasoned professionals in the field(s) you want to join.
While I personally didn’t always have others to guide me into a new career, I finally vetted two. Both showed me how to avoid staying linear; you have to focus on broader networks and accomplish feats without a crutch.
At least for me, discerning those mentors depended on the kinds of relationships and discussions I could glean from them. Mentorship brings people together, and I wanted to be sure it happened with whomever I chose. If your mentor-mentee relationship doesn't bring about productive discussions on economics, the art of deal-making, new ways to problem-solve, or your best strategizing techniques, look elsewhere. You can't be your best self in a silo; you must surround yourself with people you respect and admire.
Today, it's all played out in my favor: I have the honor of sitting on major policy think tanks like B20 and G20 and the United States competitiveness councils. Within these organizations, I continue to collaborate with and find people I respect (mentors, if you will).
So to start this journey for yourself, make a list of professionals who could provide wisdom, and begin reaching out via e-mail. Include what you’re looking to gain from mentorship, why you think that person would be a great mentor for you, and what this partnership might look like. You may not get a response immediately (or at all). But that’s OK -- just follow up. If you get rejected, be respectful and reach out to someone else.
When you get a response, start slowly. You won’t be hanging around your mentors 24/7, but perhaps they’ll agree to have a biweekly call or a coffee date once a month. It might not seem like much time, but it adds up. Try to offer potential mentors something in return. This can be anything from providing professional help in an area you’re strong in but they’re not (e.g., design or tech), offering to help with something personal (planning for a trip to a destination you’ve been to), or even just giving them a credibility boost through endorsements.
Start your first career switch with an event
After branching out on my own, I found people I wanted in my network and brought them to me by throwing a big event in Monaco. This was the networking boost I needed to kick-start my new career journey.
To benefit from the same boost, people must know you exist. Hosting your own event not only puts your name on the tips of tongues, but it also confirms your ability to connect. As you meet your event guests, consider who’d benefit from meeting whom. And don’t feel like the event has to be a Gatsby-sized soiree; it can be as simple as a close gathering of five colleagues who each bring an industry friend from his or her respective network.
Oh, and perhaps the best part of controlling your own event? You create the guest list. You can filter attendees based on who’d fare better at the event than others, widen your net by suggesting guests bring plus-ones, or use the guest list to invite major players to the table. Ultimately, your attendees will understand your new mission, why you’re shifting, what they can expect, and how they’ll benefit.
Change is inherently scary, especially if it means uprooting a career you’ve always known in order to follow another path and plant new roots. But with strong mentors to guide you (and even stronger networks), fear can take a backseat while you enjoy the ride.
Mark Minevich is the principal founder of Going Global Ventures and venture partner of GVA Capital in Silicon Valley. He is also a senior fellow of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness in Washington, D.C.; a vice chair of Ventures and External Affairs at Comtrade Group; a co-chair of Board of Trustees Financial Policy Council; and senior advisor on Global Innovation and Technology of UNOPS. He is a taskforce member of the B20’s Digital Task Force as an expert in digitization, advanced autonomous systems, and the future of AI.