Once you’ve done enough research to be able to speak intelligibly about your desired company or industry, it’s time to start networking in a big way.
Find people in your desired company or industry that are in the positions you want to be in – or in the positions one step above where you want to be (i.e. your potential future boss). The best way to do this is through LinkedIn. You can do a company search, an industry search, or a search by title. Depending on your industry, you may also be able to find these people on the company’s website itself, so that’s another option besides LinkedIn.
As you find your aspirational contacts, add them to a spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel or Google Doc) in which you list their name, company, position, and anything you might have in common (causes you care about, schools, previous work history, etc.). Then add a category called “contacted” and “date.” This is a spreadsheet that should become your master contact spreadsheet and updated every time you find a new person or reach out to someone on your list.
Now for the outreach. There’s no question that it can feel awkward to send a cold email to someone, but if you approach it from the right mindset, then it can work really well for you. Here’s a template that you can follow:
My name is __ and I’m reaching out to you because of your expertise in __. I’m currently working in __ and researching how I can transition into __.
Since you’ve been successful in your role for some time, I’d love to ask you a bit more about your experience and how you got to this point.
I know you probably don’t have an abundance of free time, but if you do have any openings for a quick lunch or coffee, then I’d love to meet you in person. Or, if it’s easier for you, a quick phone call would be great as well.
If you don’t have the bandwidth to have a discussion right now, I completely understand. Or, if you believe there is someone better for me to talk to, please point me in the right direction.
Thanks so much for your time!
Your goal: to speak with this person and learn what they did to get to where they are now (to thus infer what you can do).
Your best chance of success in getting a response: being polite and abundantly aware of the value of their time + a good deal of humility. Go in expecting no response and be pleasantly surprised if you get one. In the worst case scenario, you’ll know that your communication with them wasn’t off-putting or too much about what you want without taking them into consideration. There’s no way to angle for a value add to them here – you need their help and you both know it. But the least you can do is be transparent about what you want and then thankful for their time.
And how to reach out to them? If you found them on LinkedIn, you can either send them an InMail or send a contact request with something like this as the body of the email. If you found them on their company website, then use the email they have listed there (unless the email is to be used for client purposes only).
*In an ideal world, this will be just one of many communications with some of the people on your list. If you hit it off with one or two of your contacts, you could end up building a relationship with them, continuing to learn from them as you make your transition, and potentially even hear about job openings before they become public.
But this is a best-case scenario that can only happen if a) the people on your list have the time and desire to help b) you continuously treat them with humility, gratitude, and respect.