Informational meetings with network contacts can either be time wasters or unlock doors to great job opportunities; it all depends on your approach. First, be sure to meet with the right people: those who can refer you, hire you, or provide valuable advice. Then, carefully manage and script the meetings to serve your goal, which is to get another career-advancing meeting or interview. Use the steps below to tightly manage your meeting agenda.
1. Remind them of the meeting’s purpose
This is your meeting, you asked for it. So, show appreciation for their time, and also keep in mind that they are busy and may have forgotten the reason you requested the meeting. Start off with something like: “Thanks again for making the time to meet with me. I’m very interested in hearing your take on where the opportunities are for someone with my experience in…”
2. Deliver a compelling 30 second to one minute “Networking Pitch”
Segue from step 1 into this step by saying something like: “Why don’t I take a minute to remind you of my background, and then I’ll ask the questions I have for you?” Then deliver your pitch, concisely laying out how you can help employers and what differentiates you from your competition. Help them to help you by being as clear as possible about what you’re looking for and have to offer. To that end, stay away from phrases like “I’m open to lots of different possibilities” unless you’re looking for advice on the direction you should take. Be much more specific: “I’m looking to be either an SVP of Operations at a Fortune 500 corporation, reporting into a COO, or be the COO at a late-stage startup.”
3. Ask prepared questions that will prompt a productive conversation
If you think your contact’s organization may be interested in hiring you, then focus your questions on opportunities within the organization. Don’t turn them off by asking about opportunities elsewhere. Start off with broader, more open-ended questions (“Where do you think my skillset could be of use?”). Then, if the answers aren’t as helpful as you would like, drill down into more specific questions. For example, you might do some research on the organizational structure (LinkedIn is great for this) and then ask: “I was thinking about reaching out to X who runs the Y division, what do you think?”
After talking for a while, clients sometimes hear things like: “You’re great, too bad we didn’t talk six months ago when we needed someone with your background.” This sentiment is music to my clients’ ears because it reaffirms that they are pitching themselves the right way and talking to the right people. If you hear something similar, that’s your cue to pivot from discussing opportunities at their organization to other organizations (as described in the next step).
4. Show them your Job Search Marketing plan
Use this one-page document to make it easier for your contact to help you land a meeting at one of your target organizations. In this document, include 1) your objective, 2) your competitive differentiators, 3) your job target (position description and type of organization), and crucially 4) a list of organizations you’re targeting that they may know of. If you say “I’m looking for opportunities in pharmaceutical companies” they may not think of someone. But seeing a list of company names may jog their memory about who they could introduce you to.
5. Make it easy for them to help you
Your contact may generously offer to share your resume with their network. Unfortunately this approach almost never works, because a) your contact may find it’s too much work to send your resume around, b) they forget, c) they don’t pitch you optimally, or d) their contacts may not have any open positions at that moment – yet your goal should be to meet with them regardless, to build a relationship for opportunities down the road.
A more successful strategy involves specific asks that require you (not them) to do most of the work. For example:
- “I noticed on LinkedIn that you’re connected to X. I was thinking of reaching out to them directly. Could I mention that I was referred by you?”
- “Could you perhaps email <specific person> with a brief introduction of a sentence or two, copying me, and I’ll take it from there?”
- “Could I send you a forward-friendly email that you could then pass on to them, copying me as a way of introduction?” Then put your pitch in this forward-friendly email. This approach is effective because you’re not depending on them to figure out how to pitch you.
The later two approaches also give you an excuse to nicely remind them if they haven’t acted (give them a couple of weeks), as they are committing to a specific, timely action.
6. Consider offering to help them
Think about whether there’s something you can offer your contact, even if just to make your own network available to them for introductions. They will appreciate the gesture.
7. Write them a follow-up email
If they helped you with a referral or advice, then send them a thank you note. If instead they are now interested in your possibly working for them, write an impact email that seeks to influence their decision-making in your favor.
8. Keep in touch
For example, send them a LinkedIn connection request after the meeting. Then be sure to schedule a keeping-in-touch email 3 to 6 weeks after this meeting, so you stay top of mind in case opportunities arise.