A networking meeting can be a great way to open your job search to new opportunities. Although a networking meeting isn't a formal interview, you should still try to do your best at these sessions. After all, a successful networking meeting can go a long way in leading to personal endorsements and job interviews.
Keep in mind that even in a casual setting, it’s likely your networking contact will be appraising your communications skills, interpersonal style, and credentials during an informational interview. He or she will also be deciding whether you would represent them well if they advance your candidacy or refer you to any of their contacts.
Review these tips on how to excel when you're meeting with a networking contact.
Reach Out in the Right Way
First, establishing the right tone for your meeting in your initial outreach is essential. Frame the networking meeting as an opportunity to get advice about your job search, information about their field, or suggestions about how to translate your skills into their sector.
You should send an email in advance of your session stating why you would like to meet and include a few key strengths that you think would be beneficial in the next phase of your career.
Accordingly, you might say something like, "I am hoping to gain some insight into how I might apply my writing, research, and advanced Excel skills to a role within your sector."
Providing concrete examples will encourage your contact to start thinking about your assets as a potential candidate and will set a positive and promising tone for the remainder of your correspondence.
Prepare Yourself for Success
As the case with all interview opportunities, the better prepared you are, the better impression you're bound to make. Keep in mind that it's your responsibility to take the lead with the dialogue.
Go into your meeting with a list of questions designed to secure information and advice from your contact. Make sure the exchange has a natural conversational flow by listening carefully to the responses to your questions. Show your understanding and ask follow up questions, even if they weren't previously on your list. Don't simply run down your list of questions.
Be Ready to Discuss Your Background
Though you should have questions prepared in advance, you should also be ready to share information about your background and skills. Your contact will likely ask you for specifics about your background so that they can advise you better.
Although you don't need to go into the session with an exact definition of the job you are pursuing, you'll need to be able to discuss the skills, interests, and knowledge that you'd like to be a part of the next job. It's a good idea to mention certain responsibilities you had in a past position which you enjoyed and excelled in.
If your contact doesn't ask you about your background, you should still find a way to include your key assets into the discussion. You can follow up by asking questions about how your skills could be best applied in their industry.
Customize Your Questions to Reach Your Goal
Of course, it won't always be appropriate to frame your networking meeting as an opportunity to learn about the contact's career or industry. Sometimes, you'll be continuing within the same career and industry and already have that perspective about the field.
In those cases, you should ask for advice about the best ways to conduct your search, feedback about your documents, portfolio, and online presence, and suggestions for companies that might be a good fit for you.
Towards the end of your session, be sure to ask for suggestions about other individuals you should consult or other steps you should take to advance your search.
Last Impressions Are Just Important as First
Be sure to send a follow-up communication as soon as possible after your meeting. In addition to expressing your gratitude, mention any steps you'll be taking in accordance with their advice. If they have suggested a particular job opening, company or contact, thank them with specific reference to your next steps. This may also encourage them to offer further assistance.
Example: "Your suggestion that I might consider corporate communications based on my passion for storytelling and strong writing skills was particularly helpful. I will be submitting my cover and resume to several positions in this field next week, and I will be sure to keep you updated on my progress."
Review this list of thank you letter examples for a variety of circumstances to get ideas for your own follow-up messages.
Quick Tip: If you meet your networking contact in a coffee shop or restaurant, be sure to pick up the check. You're the one asking for advice so you should pay the bill.
Keep Your Contacts Informed
Ideally, your networking meetings will initiate an ongoing relationship that is mutually beneficial. Keep your contacts informed about developments with your search, especially when acting on their advice or referrals.
Share information or offer assistance that you think would be beneficial to them, so the supportive relationship is a two-way process.