The day a woman called me to ask for an “informational interview” I had a feeling it wouldn’t go well. The tone of her voice was monotone, unenthusiastic. She was smacking gum in my ear. Regardless, I said yes and then there was silence. “Hello,” I said.
“Oh, I was just looking through my calendar to see when I’m free,” she replied.
As I suspected, the conversation didn’t go well. The woman was probably told by a well-meaning career advisor to ask for an informational interview. But she wasn’t told the questions to ask or why she was asking for a networking meeting. She wasn’t clear on the purpose of our meeting.
The purpose of a networking meeting
First of all, no job has been advertised, so these meetings are not actual interviews. That’s why the term “networking meeting” is more fitting.
Second, you’re requesting a networking meeting to gather advice for a particular position and the company. So you’re the one asking the intelligent, thought-provoking questions. Therefore there is no pressure on the person offering information and advice, and no pressure on you.
Third, your goal is to present yourself as a potential solution to problems the company may have. There might be a position developing at the company, unbeknownst to you; and you might be recommended to the hiring manager for the position. At the very least, you could be sent away with three other people with whom to speak.
10 ways to make sure your networking meetings go smoothly.
1. Ask strong questions. Poor questions show a lack of preparation and are disrespectful. A question like, “What does your company do?” is weak because it lacks creativity and thought. Besides, you should already know what the company does before talking with the person granting you the meeting. I hate this question.
Another question I hate being asked is, “What do you do?” Can you be a little more specific? “How do you prepare for creating your workshops?” is a question I can talk to at length because it gives me direction. Begin the discussion with, “I know a little about what you do, but I have some questions to ask….”
Note: If there’s one question you should ask, it’s, “Are there any issues or problems that exist in your department or the company?” This gives you the opportunity to talk about how you’d solve the problem/s.
2. Your enthusiasm level is high. Chances are the person granting you the networking meeting is not looking forward to spending his valuable time answering questions from a person he’s never met or met once at a conference. So coming across as bored or hesitant, will not bode well.
Instead begin the conversation by introducing yourself and explaining why you are excited about talking with said person. Why you’re interested in the position up for discussion, as well as the types of companies you’re interested in learning about.
Don’t forget to smile while you’re talking in person or on the phone—it can be heard through the phone connection.
3. Arrive or call on time. This is a no brainer. If you are late for the meeting, you might as well kiss it goodbye. This is common sense; people hate it when others are late, me included.
Make arrangements for this special day so that there’s no way you’ll be late. In fact, arrive early if you’re meeting for coffee with the person granting you the meeting. If you’re calling, set your watch alarm or e-mail alert 10 minutes before making the call. Don’t call late or early; call at the exact time.
4. Have a clear agenda. Similar to point #1, your agenda must provide direction. Don’t come across as wimpy and disorganized.
State at the beginning of the meeting that your goal is to learn more about the position, the company, and competition—if the person can speak to that point.
While you want the meeting to be more like a conversation, it doesn’t hurt to provide structure. Write down all your questions in groupings of the job, company, and competition. This way you won’t forget to ask them.
5. Provide data to back up your accomplishments. You’re not being interviewed for a job, but the person granting you the meeting will want to know something about you, what you’re made of. To break the ice, she might ask what you currently do and what your interests are.
So you’re interested in event planning, but most of your experience as been through extensive volunteerism (you stayed home 10 years to raise a family). Most recently, you were tasked with planning the PTO’s bake sale which raised $3,000; whereas the year before the school raised only $150. Tell her you “love” event planning.
This is great information and should be shared with the person granting you the networking meeting, if asked.
6 Show your gratitude. Don’t make the person feel as though you’re the one who’s inconvenienced by having to ask questions and giving structure to the meeting. You come across as someone who is all about yourself, not about giving back.
As I’ve said before, the person granting you the networking meeting is taking time out of her busy schedule. Say, “Thank you for taking this time to answer my questions” at the outset and repeat your words of gratitude at the end of the conversation.
7. Don’t ask for a job. There’s no job available; at least to the person granting you the meeting, so don’t be presumptuous. Besides, the mere fact that you’re before this person or talking on the phone implies you’re looking for a job, especially at this company.
Now if it’s a known fact between you and the person with whom you’re speaking that a position exists at the company, by all means discuss the possibility of your fit, both job-related and personality wise. Perhaps you were given a soft lead from a connection of yours.
8. A call for action. Always ask if there’s anyone else you can speak with to gather more information and advice. If no position exist or is being developed at the moment, the least you should come away with are additional people with whom to talk. Often job seekers will neglect this part of the networking process.
Your goal is to gather as many quality people to join your networking campaign as possible. Politely ask at the end of the informational meeting, “Can you think of anyone I can speak with regarding a nursing position?” Don’t expect the person to come up with three people immediately; she may have to send you the contact information.
9. Reciprocate. Failure to give back demonstrates your lack of networking etiquette. You can’t expect to receive and not give. I come across many people who think their job search is the center of everyone’s lives and don’t think of offering help to those who help them.
Reciprocity can come in many forms. After discussing some issues that existed at the company, you came up with a better procedure for the company’s supply chain operation. Or the small company needs some graphic art for their website—this will fit nicely on your résumé.
10. Always send a thank-you note and follow-up. This is a golden rule at any point in your job search. Failing to send a thank-you note, via e-mail or a card is insulting and a sure way to lose that person as part of your network. A nicely written thank you shows your gratitude and professionalism.
Gently remind the person who granted you the network meeting of the additional people you should contact. Keep a lively conversation—perhaps one that involved an existing problem at the company—going, and offer a solution to that problem. By all means don’t drop this person as a potential networking connection.
Networking meetings can be a gem. I tell my workshop attendees that they’re not easy to come by, as people are extremely busy. Most people who grant networking meetings do so because they want to help you in your job search. Don’t waste their time. They can be an asset to your networking endeavor.
And please don’t act like the woman who called me for our “informational interview.”
Photo: Flickr, Pulpolux !!!