People tell me their networking conversations or meetings are awkward and rarely produce anything meaningful. When I dig a little deeper, I often find that they expect their networking contacts to somehow just know what to do. Most people would love to help you, but have no idea how they can. It’s up to you to help them help you!
Often, a job seeker will jump to a question like “Do you know of any job openings that would fit my background?” Chances are the networking contact doesn’t know of a specific opening at the moment, and the conversation stalls there, becoming awkward for both. So… Rule #1 – Don’t ask for a job!
That may sound counterintuitive. After all, the conversation is about looking for job leads, isn’t it? Well, yes, and no. As soon as they realize you’re looking for a job, they understand that you’re interested in leads. In the course of the conversation you should certainly tell them that if they know of, or come across an opportunity, you would appreciate the referral. However, don’t put them on the spot at the moment by asking them if they know of leads directly.
So what is the objective and what should you ask? Although you hope they may offer up a potential job lead, your objective in each conversation is to get 2 or 3 additional people to talk to. In your conversation with them, you can give them an analogy like:
“My job during my search is to follow a trail of breadcrumbs from one person to another to another until I get to someone with the right opportunity for me, so I’m only hoping you might be able to point me to the next few links in the chain for me.”
Then have various questions prepared that would help them think of who they might refer. Questions like:
“Who would be the first couple of people you would connect with if you were in my situation?”
“Some of the best contacts for me are people that just seem to know EVERYONE. Who do you know that’s like that?”
“Is there anyone you know at ‘XYZ Company’, ‘ABC Corporation’, or ‘Alpha, Inc.’?”
“It’s often worthwhile for me to network with other people in my field whether they know of open jobs or not, who else do you know that’s also an ‘engineer’?”
“Often the best contacts don’t come from work situations, but rather from someone’s church, health club, other parents of kids sports teams, or some other outside activity. Is there anyone you might think of from some other situations like that?”
“Who else do you know that would be worthwhile for me to connect to?”
The likelihood of getting a response to any of your questions will depend on some key criteria in the mind of your contact:
- Are you professional, humble, and credible? If they don’t think these things of you, they are not going to be willing to stick their neck out to others they know by referring you on.
- Do they understand what you do and what you are looking for? If they don’t have a good idea of what you do or what it is you really want, they will feel uncomfortable about referring you to others.
- Do you communicate well? Can you articulate your experience and your questions well? Are you brief, and concise, or do you ramble on with too much information? They won’t want to refer you to their friends if they don’t feel comfortable with you themselves.
- Do you exude a positive attitude? Are you upbeat, or discouraged? Do you show passion, or are you a grump? They don’t expect a life of the party, however, don’t want to refer you to someone if you’re a downer.
In order to achieve all this it takes preparation! Write out, hone, and practice your Elevator Speech. Be prepared with plenty of possible questions to ask them so that you can have appropriate ones in mind regardless of the direction the conversation goes.
Always ask them if there’s some way you might be able to be of help to them. Make it clear that you would like to build a mutually beneficial relationship and you’re not only there to see what you can get out of it. People will always care more about helping you if they know you care about them.
Then finally, find some way to connect with all of your contacts once a month or so. See if you can be of use to them in some way, and let them know that you’d still be grateful for leads or referrals if anything new comes to mind.
That connection can best be accomplished by sending out a monthly email newsletter to all your contacts. Give a synopsis of what activity you’ve had the last month, what new companies you may be pursuing, a brief reminder of what you do and what you’re looking for, and perhaps some personal updates to make it warmer as well. Be sure to Blind Copy (BCC) all the addresses from your distribution list into the address field and attach another copy of your resume for them to have handy. People that have done that regularly tell me they get the greatest number of new leads from that newsletter each month. Many times, a contact that may not have had any ideas for you when you met may think of something weeks later, however, figure you may not need it anymore by then or they don’t know how to reach you. The newsletter continues to build the relationship, let’s them know you’re still actively looking, and gives them your current information to be able to reach you easily.
In order to make your networking as effective as possible… help them help you!
Harry Urschel has over 20 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives and writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search.