A networking meeting can be a great way to open your job search to new opportunities. Networking, both in person and remotely, is also one of the best ways to boost your career and explore new options.
Although a networking meeting isn't a formal interview, it's important to be prepared for these sessions. After all, a successful networking meeting can go a long way in leading to professional 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. They 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.
Who to Ask for a Networking Meeting
When you're thinking about networking opportunities, cast a wide net. You never know who might be able to help your career and help you get to the next stage of your career path. Your LinkedIn connections are a good way to start finding contacts to reach out to. You can search your contacts by the company they work for and by location.
Do you belong to a professional association or a local business group? They are both good sources of contacts to network with. If you're a college graduate, check with your career services or alumni office to see if they have a career network of alumni you can tap.
Don't forget to talk to your friends and family. Even if they aren't in the field you're interested in, they may know somebody who is
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 on your job search, information about their career field, or suggestions about how to translate your skills into their sector.
Don't ask for a job. Networking is an opportunity to learn about companies, roles, and industries, rather than to ask to be hired.
When you'd like to meet with someone, send an email or LinkedIn message in advance of your meeting 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. Also, offer to assist them with their career endeavors.
Accordingly, you might say something like:
Example of Why You're Writing
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.
When you're not sure what to say, use this example of a networking letter asking for a meeting to get started.
Prepare Yourself for Success
As is 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.
Have questions ready to ask. Go into your meeting with a list of questions designed to gather information and advice from your contact.
Listen carefully. Make sure the exchange has a natural conversational flow by listening carefully to the responses to your questions.
Ask follow-up questions. Show your understanding of the conversation and ask follow-up questions, even if they weren't previously on your list.
Thank the person for their time. At the end of the meeting, be sure to relay your appreciation for the time and advice.
This is an opportunity to get inside information, so learn as much as possible about what the person does, the company, and the industry they work in.
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 possess 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 in 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, get feedback on your documents, portfolio, and online presence, and ask for suggestions about 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 as Important as the 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.
Thank-You for the Help
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 sample thank-you letter for an informational interview to get ideas for your own follow-up messages.
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 street.