I was on the phone with an alum today and we were speaking about networking. As we reviewed the basics about reaching out, staying in contact, avoiding asking for a job, and other good networking practices – he inquired what he should ask a potential contact during a meeting. I thought this was a very insightful question and one that most beginning networkers have.
It all depends upon your desired outcome for the initial meeting/call/interaction (and no, “a job” is not a reasonable desired outcome from an initial meeting). Think about what you want from this person – information, advice, additional contacts, etc. – what would you identify as your desired goals for the meeting? This should shape the questions you ask.
As I have mentioned before, ask open-ended questions that foster conversation and avoid Yes/No questions. I find that the more direct and transparent I am with the networking contact as to the purpose of the meeting, the more productive the meeting. I believe when you let your networking contact know how he/she can help you, the person is more willing to help as compared to when a networking contact is unsure of your needs.
So prior to reaching out to a contact, first think about the desired outcome. Before laying the first stone, the builder needs to know what the finished product should look like.