Right now many unemployed people, and many who still have jobs, are thinking "Who would hire me?"
Change that thinking to a balance between -
"Who would hire me?" ** AND **
"Where would I have the best chance to succeed and want to work?"
Think of your networking activities as a research project to find the best fit between you and an employer. This article will focus on how to use primary research or obtain information from conversations with knowledgeable individuals to answer the fit question and prepare for job interviews.
Most people understand the value of keeping in touch with contacts and will invest some time in speaking with job seekers.
Be positive about the contact's ability to help you without resorting to flattery. If you have been told that Joe or Mary is an expert on the industry or company, say so. They may laugh, but they will speak with you more readily.
Be sure that you come across positively when you speak on the phone. You will sound more positive if you smile while speaking on the phone. Other people have found dressing in business attire even when no one can see you makes a difference in how you come across. A third option is to stand while conversing. Try one or all three of these suggestions to see if your phone conversations become more effective.
Be nice to everyone. Many executives have administrative assistants who believe that they are serving their bosses best when weeding out callers. Most people have a natural instinct to be nice when treated nicely. Ask nicely to leave a voicemail or a message explaining your request and it will probably get through.
When you reach the contact, ask when a convenient time to meet is. Most information is non-verbal so meeting in person is best if the contact agrees. However, if a time for telephone is offered, take it and if the contact says that he/she has a few minutes right now, launch into your prepared questions.
Be prepared when you call a networking contact with a clear purpose for the conversation; what you hope to learn from the contact, and a set of questions. Start with specific questions based on your previous research. Follow up with open ended queries to insure that new aspects of the industry or company that you are researching are brought to your attention.
A specific question would be "What is the corporate culture like at industry leader XYZ?"
An open-ended query would be "What else should I know about this industry or this company that we have not discussed yet?"
Stand out from the crowd by offering some information that you have gathered beforehand to make the conversation more valuable for the contact.
If you are not sure that you understood something that the contact said, ask for clarification, or repeat it in your own words.
If a contact says that the information you requested is confidential, move on to your next question.
Respect the contact's time constraints. Once you get into a conversation, people will often overlook the time, but if the contact has a meeting or report due, you may be cut off before getting all the information that you want.
At the end of the conversation, thank the contact for his/her time and ask three questions:
Follow up with a thank you note and any information that you have found that might be of interest to the contact. You'll stand out in the crowd.
Parmelee Eastman is president of EastSight Consulting which helps provide more effective utilization of external information in internal decision-making processes. EastSight Consulting clients range from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Prior to founding EastSight, Parmelee was the vice president of the global technology and communications practice at Fuld & Company and employed for 16 years at Digital Equipment Corporation. Parmelee holds a B.A. from Wellesley College and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.