There is a real art to informational interviewing and today we will review best practices to ensure a successful networking experience. You want to make certain to create a positive impression and leave your contacts with the knowledge that you would be a great addition to any workplace. Even more, you want to establish multiple insider connections in organizations where you would like to work. By building a number of influential referrals, you can’t help but gain a significant edge over the competition.
The following are three key ways to ensure that your networking meeting will be a success:
#1) Focus your meeting on information gathering only
- Above all, do not give the impression you are asking for a job. (In my earlier post, I laid out how best to approach potential contacts. You are asking for information and time only.) If you come on too strong, the person with whom you are networking is likely to feel that they have been deceived. This is a guaranteed way to turn your meeting into a disaster.
- Your goal is to learn from his or her experience, obtain knowledge of the company, and, most of all, to make a new and potentially powerful ally in your job search.
- Consider leaving your resume at home. If asked for this critical document, you can attach it later to your thank you note. Plus, after your conversation, you can target your resume far more effectively to the goals and needs of the organization. (More on how best to follow-up in my next post.)
#2) Demonstrate that you are a professional and someone who is pleasant to be with
- Dress like this is a regular job interview—you are making a first impression with someone inside your targeted company. Naturally, you will want to look your best.
- Watch your body language: good posture, firm handshake, appropriate eye contact, friendly facial expressions, etc.
- Be on time and come prepared with a list of well thought-out questions. You want to show that you have done your research and are knowledgeable about both the company’s direction and the field as a whole. Inquire about specifics that demonstrate your awareness and forethought. Asking informed questions will go a long way to letting your interviewee know that their time was well spent with you.
- Ask if you can take notes and, if so, take them. Writing down information shows that you are interested and that you care enough to want to remember the thoughts and suggestions your contact is giving you.
#3) Order your questions in a way that facilitates the conversation
Immediately engage the person by first asking questions about him or herself and their own experience.
- What is a typical day like for you around here?
- Which aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
- How did you break into this field?
Then move on to questions about the company. Remember that you want to display your knowledge and preparation.
- How do you see your firm’s growing presence in China impacting the long-term goals of the organization?
- How will the new regulatory changes affect the needs of your customers?
At this point, you’ve warmed them up by engaging them in the conversation and displaying your knowledge of the organization and the industry. Now is the time to ask for their advice.
- What kinds of individuals do best in an organization like this?
- Do you think someone with my background might make a good fit for this type of company?
- Do you have any suggestions as far as training that might make me a more valuable candidate?
At the close of your meeting, ask for additional referrals.
- First, express your sincere gratitude for their time and helpfulness. Then ask if they know of someone else who might be willing to give you an additional perspective on the company and/or field.
- Assure them that you will be requesting a brief meeting of only 15 or 20 minutes. As you know, the potential referral will primarily be doing the favor for the person you are currently interviewing. By letting your interviewee know your plans up front, you will show him or her that you are sensitive to their colleague’s busy schedule.
- Finally, ask if you can use their name. This will give you immediate buy-in and is far more likely to result in another interview opportunity.
In addition to the questions above, be aware of the time your interviewee has already spent with you. Many people enjoy talking about themselves so much that they will take several minutes answering your initial questions. They might go on and on about their personal experience, leaving you little time to address the subsequent topics you want to cover. If this happens, mention that you have already taken the 15 minutes you had requested. Then ask if they have a few additional minutes to spare. (They will almost always say, “yes.”) This shows that you are courteous, respectful of their time and a person of your word—all attributes that will be viewed with appreciation.