You’ve successfully navigated the initial stage of the networking process, and someone has agreed to meet you in person or talk with you over the phone. The question now is: How do you get the most out of the meeting? Here are some things to consider:
1. Prepare for the meeting.
Prepare for the informational networking meeting with questions; and with a twofold purpose: (1), make sure you know what you want from the other person; and (2), whether that person is capable of giving you want you want. If you’re meeting the person just to reap information about a specific industry or company, draw up a list of questions before you go into the meeting.
2. Look your best.
If you’re meeting a contact personally, treat the meeting as if it were a job interview. Even if this isn’t an official interview where they’re evaluating you for a job (I’ve had clients who said it turned into that, so don’t assume), make an impression that positively influences how eager they’ll be to give you names of other people or to recommend you for possible job openings.
3. Connect with the gatekeeper.
If the person you’re meeting has an assistant or receptionist who screens phone calls and arranges appointments for that person, introduce yourself and tactfully try to establish a relationships. Get the person’s name. Make sure that he or she knows your name, so that when you call the next time, you won’t have to reintroduce yourself.
4. Plan the time and stick to it.
Verify how much time the person is prepared to give you before you actually start the conversation. It’s best to know beforehand, when you initially set it up. Otherwise, at the start of the meeting, ask directly, “How much time do we have? I don’t want to interfere with your schedule.” Keep track of the time as the conversation proceeds. If the person appears restless, or you’ve used up your time, you should offer to wind down the conversation.
Why does it matter? First, you avoid the awkwardness you may feel when the other person has to tell you, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any more time.” It also conveys the right message by showing the other person that you value his or her time. If you have to go back to that person for help, he or she will probably be more apt to say yes.
5. Take notes.
Taking notes during the meeting – as long as you do it in a relaxed manner that allows you keep eye contact – is a good idea. You retain information you gather. Note-taking also actually flatters the person giving you the information.
Do ask right away if it’s okay to take notes. Few will say no.
Don’t allow the note-taking process to interfere with the person’s efforts to answering your question. Listen intently, and write down key ideas. You’ll have time after the interview to flesh out your rough notes into a more polished form.
6. Don’t complain.
“Of course not,” you say. But many have told me how once in a meeting – even if unintentional – they moved to talking about their frustration, how they were “wronged,” or other negative topics. The purpose of a networking meeting is to get information and at the same time, to make a favorable impression so that if this person does hear of a job or lead, he or she will not hesitate to recommend you.
So regardless of how discouraged you might feel about your job search or any career woes, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. Smile, speak with a lift in your voice, and sound enthusiastic. The last thing you want from this person is sympathy.
7. Ask for names.
If you achieve nothing else, walk away from an information meeting with at least one or two additional names of people you can contact – and with that persons’ permission to use the names. Ask for those names at the end of the conversation, after you have connected with rapport. The direct approach is usually the best: “Do you know any others who might be helpful for me to talk with?”
8. Show your appreciation.
Always, always, always send a short thank-you note to everyone who gives you their time, either in person or over the phone. Do it within a day or two. Send an email first. Then follow it up with a short, hand-written, snail-mailed note. And even better, share something. If that person expressed an interest in a topic, send along an article or link that’s related, with, “I thought you might enjoy this, Joe.” The power of showing gratitude can’t be overstated.
What’s been your experience with networking meetings? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below.