Building your networking muscles

Fairly often, I get requests for informational interviews, and I’m usually happy to squeeze those in (after all, these were the foundation of my initial career search!). While I’m honest about the fact that I may not have a specific opportunity for them, these conversations help me learn whether I might want to recommend them for something in the future.

Everyone I meet with goes on a list of potential hires, because there are organizations reaching out to me all the time with hiring needs, and whenever I get one of those, I go back to my list to see if there’s a potential connection to make.

And that’s what informational interviewing produces – potential opportunities, which may take a little longer to come to fruition. But because you were able to get in front of a real, live person, and explain all the great things you bring to the table, you’ll be top of mind for them.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you build your networking muscles.

Dedicate Time to Networking

You need to block out time each week to focus on this part of the process – time to comb your networks, to reach out with requests, to meet with people, to do the follow-up needed (even just a quick thank-you!). It doesn’t need to be incredibly time-consuming, but focusing 2-3 hours per week is one thing that will yield results. The more people you can get in front of, the more potential opportunities will surface.

Informational Interviews Are Not Job Interviews!

In the beginning of your job search process, you’re looking to set up informational interviews – not actual job interviews. This may sound a little disingenuous, but it’s a way to help people feel comfortable giving you some time on their calendars – especially when you don’t know each other.

Setting yourself up as someone who wants to learn more about a particular kind of role, or about the culture of a certain organization, can take the pressure off (especially if there are strict HR processes that would get in the way).

People like talking about themselves, and giving advice! They like sharing their stories of how they got where they are, what the career path is, what they’d recommend you do. This should be the main focus of your time together.

Make a Clear Ask

People respond better to requests that are specific, rather than vague.

For example: “I’m looking to transition my skills in business development into fundraising, and would appreciate spending 30 minutes with you to understand more about what your day-to-day work looks like.”

Or, “As part of my career change process, I’m interested in connecting with people who work in marketing positions at start-up organizations, and was hoping you could think of three people to connect me with.”

Follow-up Is Key

You are the only one who cares deeply about your career change, so don’t be afraid to follow up on your requests. If a contact hasn’t responded after a week or two, try again once or twice more before moving on. Or, try another mode of communication if you have options – not everyone is checking LinkedIn as often as you!

And once you’ve met with someone, send a quick thank-you note within 24 hours of your meeting. It doesn’t need to be complicated or perfect – just be polite and grateful that they took some of their precious time with you.

What’s one simple thing you can do this week to build your networking muscles?

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