Networking: Getting Started (Part 3)

Many of us grew up knowing networking was a good thing, and that it had something to do with having or getting a lot of contacts, but what we’re supposed to do with all those contacts may have been a little unclear.

A few months ago I was explaining the concept of informational interviews to my boyfriend.  He was in the midst of a full-time job search, and I had encouraged him to try a networked job search, in addition to doing the respond-to-job postings thing.

I walked him through Part 1, “You have an entire fan club of folks who think you’re awesome and want to see you succeed!” and Part 2, “You just need to let them know what you’re looking for and tell them what specifically they can do to help you.”  Now it’s time for Part 3: how to conduct an informal career chat (a.k.a informational interview).

Let’s assume that you followed Steps 5 & 6 in my previous post in this series and now you have someone who has agreed to take 15-20 minutes out of their busy schedule to talk to you.  What now?

Make the best use of their time (and yours) in five steps:

Step #1: Before the chat, do your homework.  Google enables you to find out a lot about the person before you actually speak with them.  Learn the basics about the organizations they ‘ve worked for, so you don’t waste time asking about things that you could have easily found out about online.

Step #2: Frame the conversation.  Either in an email or at the beginning of the chat, briefly describe who you are and why you are reaching out to them.  Who referred you to them?  Why are they a good person for you to speak with, and what do you hope to learn?  Providing them with context will help them understand how they can be of help.

Step #3: Let the person share their experiences with you.  My boyfriend once said, “I already know everything there is to know about this person’s organization.  What more could we possibly talk about?”  Informational interviews are opportunities to explore someone’s back story.  How someone got to where they are currently can provide more insight than asking what it’s like to work at XYZ company.  Questions like “Why did you choose this career path” and “What skills enabled you to succeed in your current and previous roles” uncover rich information that can help you understand what opportunities may be a good (or bad) fit for you.

Step #4: Ask the person to refer you to additional people to speak with.  New contacts and things to investigate propel your career exploration forward.  This is why a networked job search can be more fruitful than simply applying to posted jobs.  With each conversation, your network of contacts multiplies in size, and you never know who will have key nuggets of advice or even job opportunities for you.  Remember, networking is not just about who you know, but who they may know.

Step#5: Follow up.  Be sure to thank the person you talked to, and personalize it by citing the pieces of the conversation that were helpful to you.  If you end up speaking with someone they referred you to, let them know how that conversation went as well.  Periodic updates can help keep you at the top of their mind, so that if and when an opportunity arises, they’ll remember you.

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