“Most job seekers conduct their networking meetings poorly,” write Nathan A. Perez and Marcia Ballinger, authors of The 20-Minute Networking Meeting.
Here’s the good news: their book will quickly show you how to do it right. The authors outline five simple steps to having a comfortable, meaningful discussion that will glean useful job market intelligence, make a favorable impression, and very likely gain you an “evangelist” – a contact who will be inclined to open doors for you.
Five steps for a great job search networking meeting:
Step 1: Great First Impression (2-3 minutes)
The key here is to express gratitude for the meeting, conversationally remind your contact of the connection (your mutual acquaintance or alma mater, for example), and set the agenda. Each of these points is important. For example, setting the agenda shows your contact that you’re well organized, which helps reassure them that the meeting really will take only the 20 minutes you’ve agreed upon.
Step 2: Great Overview (1 minute)
Here is where you give a “crisp, brief and memorable” overview of your background – just enough to enable your networking partner to understand who you are and what you’re qualified for. It may sound difficult to do that in one minute, but The 20-Minute Networking Meeting provides great, easy-to-follow tips that will help you put this together easily.
Step 3: Great Discussion (12-15 minutes)
Prepare five questions to ask, some of them based on your research about the person, their company and the industry. Here’s an example from the book:
“I’d like to ask your opinion about commercial real estate management. You came from a more traditional background into the field. How do you think my background would be received if I were to explore opportunities at real estate management firms like EO Operations or Regional Management Services?”
It’s easy to see how this question could lead not only to good general career advice, but also to useful information about the two companies and the people in them (and possibly an introduction or two!).
The last of your five questions should be “How can I help you?” If you have no idea how you can help the other person, again, the book provides examples to give you ideas.
Step 4: Great Ending (2 minutes)
At this point you once again express gratitude and review any actions to be taken by either of you.
“Thanks for meeting with me, and for agreeing to introduce me to Paul. It will be great to finally meet him. Also, I’ll send you an invitation to the next business owner’s roundtable.”
And then you promptly wrap it up and let them get on with their day.
Step 5: Great Follow-Up (after the meeting)
Much of the value of networking comes from skillful follow-up. The authors tell you how to succeed with two kinds of followup: immediate and ongoing. They provide great advice for those who might find it challenging to think of ways to continue the relationship and keep their memory fresh.
In addition, the book examines several “myths” such as “Networking is just schmoozing” and “Off-the-cuff is best; I’ll figure out how to approach each networking meeting when I get there,” includes plenty of brief stories to help you see how things work, and offers a fine pep talk for the hesitant.
I recommend you go on Barnes & Noble or Amazon and get it. It’s well written, concise, a lively read – and it could really change your life. There are three different editions tailored to recent graduates, experienced professionals and executives, respectively.
Now, this book is only about the networking meeting itself. What’s not included is how to plan your overall networking strategy and how to get folks to meet with you. For these topics I recommend The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton, which walks you through creating a list of target companies and approaching people within or acquainted with those companies, either through an introduction or even “cold.” Like Perez and Ballinger, Dalton emphasizes efficiency, planning and structure to minimize overwhelm and maximize results. (Dalton’s book addresses the meeting as well, with a different approach, and while I find Ballinger’s simpler and clearer, both approaches are fully worthy of consideration.)
Skillful job search networking isn’t something you’re born knowing how to do. A little study can yield a tremendous return on your investment of ten bucks and a couple of hours of reading. Read, learn, take action and get hired!