Your main objective in the networking meeting must be very clear in your mind from the outset, and must be made equally clear to your contact. You are there to obtain information and advice, not a job. Networking is a marketing activity. Interviewing is a selling activity. If it becomes appropriate to switch from the former to the latter, it must be handled properly, or you will appear to be operating under false pretences.
There are few hard and fast rules on how to conduct a networking meeting. However, following is a suggested format for a typical meeting:
Introduction. Take a couple of minutes to establish rapport. You may start with some small talk by commenting on when you last met. Obviously, it’s wise to avoid going into how and why you were retrenched or resigned as that could create negative perceptions.
Set the agenda. Propose an agenda and at the same time check as to how busy your contact is. Suggest a time limit - you promise to be brief. Make it clear you’re not there to ask them for or to see if they know where you can find a job. Instead, emphasise your need for advice. Focus on this and don’t worry about missing out on a job that may exist. If the person knows of a job for which you may be appropriately qualified, it will surface when the time is right. It’s important to strike a confident and eager note (sit on the edge of your chair to give that appearance). Make some observations about your contacts company and mention that you are seeking their advice because they, being a market leader, are particularly knowledgeable in regard to that industry. DO take a couple of minutes to give them a succinct snapshot of who you are and of your career progression. Remember; keep it succinct as your time with them is often limited.
Indicate your objective. Outline your job objective and your marketing strategy. Mention the types of jobs or industries and companies in which you are interested. For example, you may need to say something like, ‘My objective is to become a Marketing Director. Most recently, my jobs have been…; some of my achievements have been…; I have achieved everything I set out to and I need a bigger challenge; I’ve decided to assess other opportunities that might be more appropriate to my goals.’
Review your resume. The previous step will elicit a response which will enable you to hand over your resume for your contact to comment on and discuss your fit for the industries or companies you’ve mentioned. Ask your contact to review your resume. Expand on a few of your skills and achievements and convey what you believe you can contribute to a new employer. Remember, you want to become part of their network. You want them to be an extra set of eyes and ears in your job search. However, remember also that you are information gathering and should not sell. Offer to leave a copy of your resume with your contact. After he or she has reviewed it, ask, ‘Now that you know me a little better, do you see any major obstacles to my getting to where I want to be?’ If the response is affirmative, ask for any suggestions they may have as to how these can be minimised or eliminated.
Obtain referrals. You should try to obtain at least two referrals. If your contact has some difficulty in suggesting names, mention or repeat a few of the companies in which you are interested or a few with which your contacts company is likely to have business with and this will usually spark a few names. It’s worthwhile to comment briefly here on the importance of networking in career search, coupled with a request such as ‘I’m seeking to meet people who can help me continue the process of building a contact network and who can add to the information I’ve already gained. Knowing that networking is such an important part of my campaign, who do you know that would be the kind of person I should contact?’ Your network will continue to expand if you deliberately set out at every meeting to obtain an average of two further contacts. Your networking activity can wither or halt only if you lose interest. If you’re between jobs, remember career search should be a forty-hour a week activity.
Expand your companies/target list. Ask ‘What companies or industries do you think I should be contacting?’ If no suggestions are offered, show your contact your target list. Ask if they know any of the companies or people listed. This step can be an excellent means of gaining contacts in other organisations that you’ve targeted, or referrals to people you’ve identified.
Conclude.Thank them for their time, interest and suggestions. Conclude by suggesting that, in appreciation of their help, you’ll telephone them in several weeks to let them know how you are progressing in your search.
After the meeting, you should make a written record of all the details for subsequent follow up. And you should immediately send a letter of thanks as previously indicated. It is suggested that you follow up the next day, particularly if your contact has indicated they need to check with someone before passing their name on to you. This keeps subtle pressure on them to honour their promise.
Never pass up an opportunity to network. It’s a compliment to ask another person for assistance. Talk to as many people as you can. Don’t underestimate their value to you.
Set weekly goals for yourself, and then make sure you get out and carry them through! Your results will be as good as you make them. Remember, job hunting is not for the faint of heart. Push yourself if you have to. Take the initiative!
Here are a few points to remember:
Remember to get their business card and ask if you can ‘keep in touch’.
Remember to leave a copy of your resume or profile at each networking meeting.
Remember to ask your contact in the meeting if you may use their name when approaching the contacts they have suggested.
Remember to write to them the day following the meeting, thanking them for their time and help, and/or for providing you with names of additional networking contacts. They have done you a considerable favour, after all. Generally, you should have the letter typed. It may be handwritten only if done with style, good stationery and good handwriting. As with all letters in career search, mark it ‘Personal and Confidential’ It will then be opened by its intended recipient, not the secretary. If you have their email address, use that.
Following is a sample letter of thanks after a networking meeting:
Strictly private and confidential:
Thank you again for meeting with me today. Your input and suggestions on my career objectives and my resume were of great value to me.
The information you gave me regarding _______ was most helpful. I appreciate your recommendation that I contact XXXX for further suggestions. I will also be following up with the other individuals you suggested and will be making contact with the companies you mentioned.
Thanks again. I now know why XXXXX holds you in such high esteem. Please keep my objectives in mind in case you hear of other opportunities. As we discussed, I will be back in touch with you in a few weeks to see if you have any further suggestions and to keep you informed of my progress.
Remember to keep records of your networking meetings. There is no harm in ringing your contacts again in a couple of months to let them know how your situation has developed, and they’ll be interested to know how you got on with the leads they suggested. Be aware there is a fine line between too much follow-up and not enough. Only you can judge this and it will vary depending on the chemistry of each meeting.