I lost my job recently because of financial difficulties at my company.
My job search activities started on the very day the bad news came. Updating resumes, refreshing network connections, applying for unemployment benefits to name just a few. It was bad news, you bet, but I felt confident that my unemployed status would be short-lived.
Networking Not Working
Then I attended my first “lunch and learn” meeting sponsored by a professional association. It didn’t go well. I was embarrassed to tell others that I had been laid off, but worse, when asked about my job search plans and goals, I stammered out some words as my unfocused ideas buzzed around my head and slipped out of my mouth. People at the meeting who even had job openings at their companies would politely excuse themselves to connect with others after only a few minutes with me and my unprepared job search ideas.
I walked to the parking lot after that event knowing I needed to get better at planning for and having effective job networking conversations. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew I needed to do something and quickly.
Help Wanted Fast
A career coach recommended a book called The 20-Minute Networking Meeting to give me some practical steps and an easy to follow outline for preparing and engaging in job networking conversations. Here are a few ways that this book has helped me and hopefully will help you.
If you know ahead of time who you will be talking with, spend time learning about their background and experience before the meeting. This preparation helped build up my confidence and saved time for a richer discussion and deeper relationship-building instead of me taking time for things I could have found out on LinkedIn or from some other source.
2) Begin with Relationship
Using the first 2-3 minutes to talk about how you and the network contact are connected will help get the meeting off to a positive start. “I was excited when our mutual friend, Sally, recommended for me to reach out to you. She really enjoyed working with you on the Greenfield project. Did you know Sally before that project?” Adding this tactic to the meeting introduction helped me and my contact feel more at ease (and, yes, networking contacts feel nervous too).
3) Never Ask for a Job
This may sound counter-productive, but wait. I don’t like pushy or manipulative sales people when I am in the market to buy something. Your network contact doesn’t either. Avoiding this direct approach can help you make a great impression by showing off your positive attitude, your skills and experience, and your professionalism. Make a commitment to earn their trust first. If your networking contact has or knows of a job opening, the topic will be introduced by the contact in the meeting. If not, it often will come up in the follow-up communication.
4) Ask “How Can I Help You?”
I have been shocked by how grateful many of my networking contacts have been when I have offered to help them. Sometimes, because of my prior research, I have been able to offer a specific piece of assistance, but other times I just ask the generic version of the question. If you are sincere and really do want to help, it will be appreciated by your contact. It becomes a bit of proof that you are truly willing to serve instead of only looking out for your interests.
These are just a few of the tips and ideas from the book that helped me. I hope they can make your networking more enjoyable and effective.
Mark Dudley is an experienced and competent learning and performance improvement leader and consultant that has supported a diverse set of industries and organizations for more than two and half decades. Connect with him on LinkedIn.