Unlikely Sources and Your Next Career Move

Jane Horan
4 min readDec 21, 2021

It may be an old boss you didn’t care for who guides you to a great role. Discover how distant connections offer the best way towards a new direction

In any profession, a robust network is primary. This means developing solid, reliable connections with the right people to help support each other. Networking is linked to many measures of professional success; having influence, promotions, and landing the next job offer.

When building a network, it’s often tempting to focus on those who can provide you access to the information, advice and competencies necessary to succeed in the moment.

Every career is an evolution.

As we advance and gain valuable experience, it’s easy to lose sight of people from our past who may seem less important to our present-day profession.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to never burn bridges. If you’re not in touch with a wide swath of people, including those more distant connections, you could be cutting off potential opportunities.

Why help comes from unlikely places

It’s natural to gravitate towards people you like or have something in common with, (the same industry or shared hobbies) and others who may have helped you overcome challenges. In times of need — such as contemplating a career transition — it’s helpful to leverage past (and present) connections from all walks of life.

The most helpful ones are not necessarily industry influencers or C level management, as they may be focused on their own success and not easily empathize with your urge to explore elsewhere.

Think back for a minute.

Maybe it’s an old client from a decade ago, maybe a boss you didn’t see eye-to-eye with, a neighbor, or even the parents of your child’s schoolmate — people who haven’t been part of your recent life and therefore have fewer preconceptions.

They may well be more open to challenging your assumptions and help explore career options. And you’re less likely to worry about their judgment when asked about your career. Their perspective is fresh, which can only help your career transition.

Now you know why unlikely connections can help your career! But your next question may be:

‘How do I find and reconnect with people who can actually guide me in a new direction?’

Here are a few strategies we learned from our workshops and research:

Cast a wide net. As you can draw support from many facets, think broadly. There will the past interactions you’ve forgotten about. Over time, your network has expanded to include friends, neighbours, service providers, former clients, even the person you clicked with at a conference years ago. All these people can be incredible resources beyond your professional contacts.

Network in a way that makes sense. Everyone’s style is different, there’s no formula for building a network. Use every communication tool in your toolkit to stay on people’s radar, including phone, text, email, social media, social gatherings, coffees (virtual or physical) and so forth.

Reignite the flame. While it’s good to ask for help, avoid contacting distant connections out of the blue in a moment of need — you’ll come across as desperate or insincere, the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. Instead, first think of something that may be helpful or of interest to them.

Perhaps an article you’ve read they might like, or a webinar on a subject they’re interested in or a connection of theirs you recently met. Pointed and casual is better than scattered and anxious every time.

Show you care. Everyone needs help and guidance at certain times — none of us can do it alone. The key is to stay close to those who may be helpful to you by being helpful to them. Can you offer advice or mentorship on a subject someone is looking to learn? Can you make a connection that would open a lot of doors?

Fundamentally, it’s not who you know but who knows you which leads to opportunities. Beyond making connections, it’s essential to spend the time developing and nurturing them to support you in unexpected ways down the road. As Adam Grant wrote, “You never know where somebody’s going to end up. It’s not just about building your reputation; it really is about being there for other people.”

Interested in learning how to build a career support network from unlikely sources? Read Michael Simmons, The №1 Predictor Of Career Success According To Network Science



Jane Horan

Author. Helping people find meaningful work. I write monthly on inclusion, political savvy and careers and how these interconnect. jane@thehorangroup.com