Informational meetings are an integral, and arguably the most important, step in the process to launch your career. Unfortunately, most people do not manage these meetings well enough to capture full value from them.
The primary purpose of an informational meeting is to get referrals to other contacts in the network of the individual with whom you are meeting and ultimately meet with someone who can hire you. The purpose is NOT to get a job, that is the objective of the formal job interview.
Research proves that so called “Weak Ties” are the most productive connections in a networking campaign. Weak ties are people who do not know you well or even at all. They are most productive because they allow you to connect with people whose networks will lead you into new areas and provide new information.
No one is going to refer you to others in their network unless they trust and have confidence in you. Referrals into someone’s personal and professional network incurs risk for them. The impression you make with someone to whom you are referred reflects on the person who made the referral. No one is going to introduce you to someone in their network if they think that you will make a poor impression which will reflect badly on them. They need to have trust and confidence in you.
The informational meeting is therefore structured to earn the trust and confidence of the person with whom you are meeting. As contradictory as it may sound, the way to do that is not by talking about yourself but rather to have them do most of the talking and therefore validate themselves as an expert.
The informational meeting is comprised of the following elements:
- Follow up
Familiarize yourself with the person’s profile on LinkedIn if possible. Look for information you can use in the meeting either in the Introduction or later on. In addition to facilitating the conversation, demonstrating that you have done your homework shows initiative. Think strategically and have a sincere interest in them and their value to you. Where did they go to school? What other companies have they worked for? What are their interests?
Visit the company website and look for information you can use in the meeting. Look at press releases. Is there something you can ask about i.e., “I noticed on your company’s website that it is opening new markets in the US. Is that part of your growth strategy? Where else are you targeting? Do not ask questions which are answered on the website – you will look foolish.
It goes without saying that you will arrive early for the meeting. Dress appropriately – men should wear a jacket and tie and women should wear a business suit with a jacket, skirt or pants and a blouse or shirt buttoned at the collar. It is important that you create the right impression in the meeting so body language is important. Greet the other person with a firm handshake and make eye contact. Use a phrase like “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me”, “it is good to meet you” or the equivalent. In the meeting demonstrate good posture. It has been suggested that learning slightly forward, holding your head at a slight angle or nodding up and down shows interest and that you are paying attention. Have a hard-covered notebook and if appropriate, take notes in the meeting. This shows that you are paying attention and that you value what the other person is saying.
Hand them one of your business cards. Have a business card case and take the card from the case – don’t pull it out of your pocket. If they give you one of their cards, pause for a few seconds, read the card and put it back in your card case or in your notebook. Do not stuff it in your pocket.
If you are meeting them at their office and end up sitting in reception with a receptionist or being led by their assistant to a meeting room or their office be sure to be very cordial and friendly with the receptionist or assistant. You would be surprised at how many of these individuals are asked for their impressions of people they have met.
Confirm the duration or end point of the meeting –“Do you still have 20 minutes to chat?’ or “Are you still good until 11:30?”
Ask a question or two to get the conversation started. If you were referred to them by someone ask how they know that person. If they attended the same school or university, ask about their experience there or if they had a certain teacher or professor. If they indicate that they have an interest, hobby or are a member of an association in their LinkedIn profile, ask about that. If you meet them in their office and there is a picture of their family or something else you can ask about do so. Anything to get the conversation started.
Once you have got the conversation started, you need to transition the conversation to the next step. Refer to your email that you used to set up the meeting – “As I indicted to you in my email I am exploring careers in the financial services sector and am meeting with people in the sector to get their advice and counsel.” This statement alerts the other person as to what you are looking for.
At this juncture, they may ask you a question or two like “Tell me about yourself”, “Why are you interested in this sector?”, “What qualifications do you have for it?”, “What are your career goals?” or the like. Prepare your answers for these or similar questions. Be succinct and informative – do not try to sell yourself – this is not the time.
As mentioned earlier, the way to earn their trust and confidence is to validate their knowledge or expertise. People generally like to talk about themselves and are flattered when asked about themselves.
Prepare 6 or 8 questions for this part of the conversation. Write them down and pull out the list in the meeting. This demonstrates forethought and respect for them and their advice. Ask questions that they can answer – you do not want to make them feel uncomfortable or embarrass them by asking them something they cannot answer. Take notes as appropriate – you are showing that you value their opinion.
Start at the industry level – ask a question or two about the industry – “What are the key trends in your industry?”, “What do you see as the outlook for this industry?”. You can use this information when you meet with others and demonstrate knowledge and interest – “I understand that the outlook for this industry is very positive as a result of legislative changes, do you agree with that point of view?”.
Move to the company level however, do not ask questions that are answered on the website – “How is your company responding to these challenges?”, “What do you see as the barriers to continued success?”, etc.
Move to the personal level – “What attracted you to this industry/company?”, “Tell me about the path that got you to your current position.”, “What do you enjoy most about your current role?”, etc.
Your final question is what the meeting is really all about – “Based on your experience, what advice would you give someone trying to get into this industry?’. What you are really hoping to get are referrals to other people in their network. If their response includes a referral to one or more people you have accomplished your goal. If they do not offer to take introductions, ask for them – “Would you feel comfortable introducing me to Peter?” If an offer of a referral is not forthcoming, ask “Can you suggest other people with whom I should connect?”. Again, ask for an introduction if it is not offered.
If the person you are meeting with could actually hire you ask a different question:
“The more I learn about XYZ and the more people I meet here the more fascinating it becomes. What steps would be involved in exploring how I could become part of the organization/”
At the end of the meeting, thank them for their referrals and tell them that you have enjoyed the conversation and that you have found their insights and perspectives valuable.
If they have not offered referrals it is for one or two of three reasons:
- They do not trust or have confidence in you
- They have not decided if they trust or have confidence in you
- They trust you and have confidence in you but could not think of anyone to refer you to
If they do not trust or have confidence in you there is nothing you can do about it – you are not going to get referrals from them. However, if they haven’t decided or could not think of anyone they need time to reflect.
Ask those who did not provide referrals if you can reconnect with them in a week.
6. Follow up
The same day, or at the latest within 24 hours, send a thank you email. If they offered to make introductions subtly remind them –
“Thank you for meeting with me this afternoon. I enjoyed the conversation and found your insights and perspectives on the industry very helpful. Thank you for your kind offer of introductions to Peter and Mary. I will connect with them within 48 hours of your introduction. I will keep you apprised of my progress and would appreciate any further advice can offer.”
When you connect with the referral let the referrer know –
“I connected with Peter this morning and we are meeting on Monday. Thank you again for the introduction”
When you meet with the referral let the referrer know –
“I met with Peter this morning – we had a great chat. He introduced me to a couple of people in his network and I will be meeting with them in the next week.”
To those who did not provide any referrals your first meeting with them send them an email a week after you met with them thanking them again for their time and asking them if they have any further advice for you. This is an invitation for them to make referrals and if they do, follow the process above. If they do not offer referrals at this time, they are unlikely to do so and stop asking.
You need to stay “top of mind” with everyone you have met so they remember you when an appropriate situation arises. Send an update email to everyone you have met on a monthly basis.
“I just wanted to let you know that I am still exploring career opportunities in financial services. I had several good meetings last week and have several more scheduled in the next week or so.
I will keep you apprised of my progress and developments.”
Keep track of your networking activity on a spreadsheet including the people with whom you met, their referrals and relevant dates of meetings and follow-up notes