THE ANTICIPATION WAS PALPABLE at the venerable New England country club as men and women in sober business dress arrived one crisp evening in September. At the registration area, along with the usual name badges, they were given colored dots to put on their lapels. Each participant was asked to choose two colors of dots: one to match the industry he or she was currently working in (or had just left) and the other to represent the one he or she hoped to move into.

The club was holding a “structured networking” event for people looking to reinvent themselves, many of them managers downsized out of high-powered jobs. I had been invited to talk about using networks to change careers. People were footing a hefty attendance fee because they ...

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