You have taken some time from your career to focus on other priorities – perhaps your family – and you are now ready to return to return to work. You have thought about doing something entrepreneurial however, have decided it is not for you and that you want to return to a full-time role in an organization. Networking will be key to this process as 80% of the jobs that are filled never see the light of day – they are filled by networking and referrals.
You have reflected on your skills, knowledge, aptitudes and interests and developed your own “Personal Value Proposition” or brand statement. You have used your PVP to “segment the market” – identifying those organizations that are of interest to you and with whom you believe your PVP will resonate. You have done your research and identified the individuals in those organizations you want to network with. You have used your own network, and that of your spouse, friends, and anyone else you can think of to augment your list of networking targets.
You need to reach out to them to set up “Informational Meetings”. Do not use LinkedIn “Inmails”. Not everyone checks their LinkedIn email so you don’t know if your email has been received. In addition, Inmails are impersonal and show a lack of initiative. You need to find their professional email address. There are a number of tools available to help you – Google “finding email addresses” and a number of these tools will be identified – use the one you like.
Most people are willing to be helpful – everyone has been helped in their careers by others and most are willing to “pay it forward”. In addition, people are generally flattered when they are asked for their advice. The email subject line should identify our affiliation with them and the fact that you are seeking their advice and counsel e.g., “Fellow U of T Grad Seeking Your Advice and Counsel”. In the body of the email identify our area of interest – “…exploring careers in retail banking”. Ask to meet with them for 20 minutes to get their insights and perspectives.
Managing the “Informational Meeting is critical. The purpose of these meetings is to get referrals into the networks of others with the ultimate objective of getting to a decision maker. People will not refer others into their networks unless they trust and have confidence in them as the individual they refer reflects on them – they are putting their reputation on the line and taking a risk. The way to earn someone’s trust and confidence is by validating them as a subject matter expert. Do not pitch yourself in the meeting. You need to be prepared to answer questions like “Tell me about yourself”, “Why are you interested in this company/industry?”, “What are your career goals?” but do not launch into a monologue extoling your attributes, skills and qualifications.
Ask questions that the person you are meeting with can answer – you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable by not being able provide answers. Do not ask questions the answers to which are readily available on the organization’s website – you will look silly and it will be obvious that you have not done your homework. The questions you ask also reflect the level at which you think – strategic or tactical. You will have to tailor your questions for each individual. Asking about trends in the sector, the company’s goals and strategies, its culture, recent initiatives and the person’s career path can be effective in validating them.
Body language is important – people form an impression of others within 30 seconds of meeting them. Dress appropriately – mirror the dress of the person with whom you are meeting whether it be business formal or casual. Shake hands firmly, maintain eye contact, leaning forward and nodding shows that you are listening to what is said. Take a good notebook – write your questions in the notebook and take notes – it shows that you value their information.
If you get referrals let the referrer know when you have met with those to whom you have been referred and the outcome of those meetings. It shows professionalism, organization, that you valued the referral and serves as a reminder – they may think of other referrals to make.
Be prepared to be ignored and rejected – don’t take in personally. Be persistent – networking will work – it’s like sales – all you need is one yes.