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Networking opportunities are all around you. You can create them by telephone, email, in person and everywhere else you are able to communicate. Regardless of your communication medium, your agenda remains the same. And the success or failure of your efforts will depend on how intelligently your networking conversations are structured.
Here are some simple ideas for structuring the content of successful networking conversations. You’ll need to tailor the conversational aspects but you can take the essence of my words and make them your own. Keep in mind that you should never launch into these conversations by asking for something. First, try to show genuine interest in your contacts, try to find ways to help them, and build rapport before presenting your agenda.
The conversation happens in four stages, none of which should be rushed:
Recall the last memorable interaction you had with your contact or mention someone you both know. Ask what is happening in your contact’s personal and professional life. Listen to what is said and respond appropriately.
Statement of Your Situation
Prepare a statement that allows you to encapsulate your situation succinctly: “Malcolm, I just got laid off because of the downturn,” or “We have a baby on the way, and ————— is a company where there just isn’t room for me to grow professionally,” or “My job just got sent to Mumbai, so I guess it’s time for me to make a move.”
When common professional ground exists through an association or other social network, you can assume that your listener will be well disposed toward you. You can repay this good will by showing respect for that person’s time and politely cutting to the chase. You could begin, “Lisa, I have been an accountant with Anderson for the last four years. I work in the small business area, and I’m looking to make a change.” Rather than rambling, in fewer than ten seconds you have courteously provided a focus.
Incidentally, it is at this point in the conversation that you have to be careful to avoid a common gaffe. Don’t say something like, “My ideal job would be . . .” or “The next step I’d like to take is . . .” Why would you avoid these statements? By describing an ideal job or your desired next step up the professional ladder, you make things more difficult for the listener, who thinks, “This guy is looking for something very specific, and any introductions I can make will probably be a waste of everyone’s time.” It is more productive to talk in terms of what you do day-to-day, or even just tell the contact in general terms the profession in which you work (“I’m an accountant”) and that you are looking for a new opportunity. If you handle yourself in a pleasant and professional manner, most people will try to be helpful.
Note that I’m assuming you are talking to professional colleagues and seeking leads on job openings, rather than talking to the managers, directors, vice presidents, and presidents who can make those hiring decisions. The conversations with anyone who has the potential to hire you are different because you are then making a marketing presentation.
Tell your contacts in general terms what you do, not what you want. Talking about your aspirations just reduces your chances of getting leads.
Ask for assistance
You can ask for general guidance about your tactics: “If you were in my situation, Malcolm, what would you do?” You can ask if he has heard about local companies hiring. These are good questions, and they typically comprise the content of 99 percent of all networking questions, but you can achieve much more with the right sequence of questions.
Great networking questions
We are now going to work through a sequence of networking questions that will lead you to jobs you would otherwise never hear about. These are the same question sequences asked every day by headhunters the world over, retooled to fulfill your needs.
You can ask if there are openings in the department or at the company, and with whom you should speak about them. Don’t ask, “Can you or your company hire me?” Do ask:
- “What needs does your company have at present?”
- “Who in the company is most likely to need someone with my background?”
- “Who else in the company might need someone with my background?”
- “Is the company/department planning any expansion or new projects that might create
- “When do you anticipate a change in company manpower needs?”
- “Does your company have any other divisions or subsidiaries? Where are they?”
- “I’d appreciate any e-mail addresses or telephone numbers of headhunters you hear from.”
Knock Em Dead Tip:
Even when an offer of introduction is made—“Let me speak to Marilyn Kaplan for you”—don’t rely on your contact to get you into that company. If the door hasn’t opened in a few days, it might not. You should execute your own plan of attack, seeking other personal introductions within the company from your networking resources and making direct appeals by telephone, e-mail, and snail mail resume submissions.
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