By Ben Sands – For additional insights, tools, and leadership resources, click here
When I ask people to share with me the first word that comes to mind when they hear the word networking, it’s often something like: “sleazy,” “icky” or “sales.”
In short, many of us don’t like networking.
And yet, we know it matters.
We know that the size and quality of your network can have a direct, material effect on the speed at which you career advances and the options you have.
I’ve written this article for men and women who don’t like the idea of networking, but know it’s important. If that sounds like you, the place I recommend starting is to get better at the introductory meeting – where you learn about each other and discuss if/how you can be most helpful going forward.
I call these “informational” interviews and, if you get better at these, your networking efforts will be both more effective and more fun. Below, two specific ideas to get you started.
TWO STEPS TO CREATING A BETTER NETWORKING MEETING
Highly effective networkers don’t walk into a meeting with a successful stranger and ask them to solve their problems for them (what I call “Save Me!” Syndrome).
Effective networkers know what they want going in – to a meeting, lunch or coffee – and pursue it with intelligence and sincerity.
Here are a few questions that to help you prepare more effectively for the conversation:
What does the person you are meeting do? What do they care about? How can I help?
Your success at networking – building relationships that can help you grow your career – is directly proportionate with your ability to help others. In order to do this effectively, work to know as much as possible about the person going into the meeting. What do they do? What are they responsible for? What do they care about? What metrics matter most to them?
With that information as a foundation, the critical question then becomes: How can I be most helpful?
What do you do?
This may seem like a silly/obvious question, but it’s not. I have been invited to many a coffee conversation when my question “tell me a bit about yourself and what you do…” took fifteen-plus minutes to answer. Poof! There goes half the meeting…
Think through, ahead of time, a 30-second answer to the question “what do you do?” Make it interesting and offer insight into what you are learning, what excites you and what challenges you may be facing.
What do you want to accomplish in the next 3-6 months and how can this person help you achieve it?
Treat an informational interview just like you would a meeting with a busy exec in your office. Come in with an agenda (more on that below) and get clear in your mind what a “great” outcome for the session looks like. Depending on the situation, here a few potential “great” outcomes:
- A new friendship
- Help in solving a high-value work-related problem
- A job offer
- An introduction to someone who can offer you a job
- A mentor relationships
- Investment or partnership (for entrepreneurs)
I recommend you imagine three positive outcomes going into any meeting: a “best case” scenario and 2 positive alternatives. Prior to the meeting, be clear on what those outcomes are – and how you will know which to pursue as the meeting proceeds.
REMEMBER! Don’t forget about them and their needs/problems. Work throughout the conversation to find an opportunity to use your contacts to help THEM. More often than not, efforts you make on behalf of their dreams, will get you closer to yours as well.
Now, a few final ideas on how to manage the meeting to a positive outcome.
2. SET A SMART AGENDA
As Dale Carnegie first suggested in his eponymous “How To Win Friends & Influence People,” getting people to like you is often means you talking less, and them talking more. That principle still holds true today.
Accordingly, let me suggest a simple, but effective, three-part agenda for turning an initial 30-minute “informational interview” into a relationship of lasting value:
INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW | Sample Agenda
1. Get to know each other (but mostly them) |15 minutes
- What were they doing when they were your age?
- What is the smartest decision they made in their 20s / 30s / 40s?
- What was the worst decision they made…?
- What is the best piece of career advice / personal advice you’ve received?
- What book has had the greatest impact on your personal/professional life?
- How have your views on work, life and happiness changed since college?
- Your personal / professional experience to-date. I can’t emphasize SHORT enough…2 minutes, max.
- Your biggest lesson learned
- What you are hoping to accomplish in the next 3 months
- How they can help
A potential job opportunity – “It sounds like you have a need for which my skills and experience would be a good fit. When are you looking to fill that position by? How would you suggest I follow up? With you? With someone else?”
A opportunity to meet another valued contact – “Based upon what you’ve shared about [person you want to meet], I’d be very interested in connecting with them. Would you mind making an introduction on my behalf?”
A opportunity to further establish an “advisor”/”mentor” relationship – “I can’t thank you enough for the time today…your insights/perspectives have been hugely valuable. If it’s OK with you, would you mind if I reconnected with you in a few weeks – as things unfold?”
BONUS: Wrap up on time. If you respect their time, you’re more likely to get more of it.
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