Today, I was on the phone with an alum and we were speaking about networking. As we reviewed the basics about reaching out, staying in contact, avoiding focusing only on securing job leads, and other good networking practices – he inquired what he should ask a potential contact during an initial 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.
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. For example, I may include the following line in my outreach email:
“Would you be open to a 15 minute phone call as I would like to hear the typical projects you assign entry-level analysts at ACME, Inc and thus the skills necessary for success in the analyst role. Additionally, I would welcome any advice you would give to someone in my position.”
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. By setting the stage and expectations of the initial interaction, I increase my chances of a successful call/meeting.
As I encourage networkers, ask open-ended questions that foster conversation and avoid “Yes/No” questions. Open-ended questions lead to better conversations. Better conversations lead to better networking relationships. Better networking relationships lead to more career assistance. Get your networking contact talking about an area that he/she knows (career path, advice, company, etc.) as this will help the conversation get off on the right foot.
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. Before the initial meeting, one should have an idea of what would constitute a successful networking interaction.
What are some of your favorite questions to ask during an initial networking meeting?