A Sure-Fire Way to Upscale Your Contact List while Sipping Eggnog and Merry Ho Ho Ho-ing your Way through the Festive Season … and Beyond!
People always seem to freeze up and look petrified when, in my role as career coach, I remind them that the holiday season is the best time of year for networking. This deer in the headlights response is usually triggered by that outdated and horribly awkward, asking for a job misconception around networking.
This usually occurs innocently enough when the erstwhile networker launches, after a few pleasantries, into what they think is the key networking question: Do you know of any job openings?
Most don’t realize this is the LAST thing you want to ask at any seasonal do!
You may be scratching your head now, wondering what planet I’m from. But, just for a second, twist the situation on its ear.
Put yourself in the potential contact’s shoes.
At your job -- or when you were in one -- when people ask you about jobs in your company, is it likely you would know enough about all the different areas of your company/organization to give a truly informed answer?
For most, the answer would be no -- unless you’re in Human Resources or a small enough company where the managers and staff get involved in hiring. (In those situations you’d have hit paydirt!)
But don't worry. It’s not that people are running away from you because they think you’re a needy, imposing pariah! It’s because they feel badly because they don’t know enough to be able to help you!
Bottomline: People like to help!!! And they are often very happy to tell you about their job and company, so long as they don’t feel pressured to try and find you a job.
Phew… so now does it make more sense why so many people resist networking?
Which leads me to the NUMERO UNO thing you need to change to get better job-finding results through networking:
Forget about job searching and focus on INFORMATION GATHERING instead.
Mentally, put on a DIFFERENT HAT: Imagine you’re an Investigative Reporter or a CSI guy/gal looking for and then following up on leads and clues! This is the time to be curious, not salesy.
This is the most important distinction you can make when launching a conversation over the canapés.
Sure, it requires a bit of pre-planning and, likely, a shift in your typical conversational style but here are 4 great questions to get you started (after a brief rapport-building chitchat – you know, the stuff you usually talk about before you shuffle off to find another target because the first conversation died as soon as you mentioned you were looking for work!The old standbys: the weather, the food you’re eating, your kids or the most publicized football/hockey/soccer game!):
Ideally, go with the flow: Let part of the natural conversation spark the most relevant segue into one of these. Then try to finesse it somewhat as you start to gain momentum.
1) Your stance: during a natural break in the conversation, when you’re leaning over, to spear another meatball or lift another drink from the passing tray…
NOTE: in this day and age when a number of people are still unemployed, one must be careful here, because if your target is also looking for work, you will need to switch tracks and launch into a potentially great sharing conversation where you may be able to help each other with leads.
2) Your stance: Above all, be naturally curious about this person. Let that curiosity lead your questions but also comment appreciatively or with interest to whatever your contact is sharing… even if you have no idea right now whether or not this information will ever prove useful.
Question 2: Sounds like an interesting line of work. (And, if they haven’t already mentioned it yet) … Where do you work? (and, if you’ve never heard of the company before and the contact’s stated job doesn’t tell you implicitly: What do they do?)
3) How long have you been there?
4) Is it a good company to work for? If so, or if not, why?
Once you've determined that the company's one you might be interested in, you can take the questioning to the next level?
You can go in two directions at this point:
A) Your stance: on hearing that the company does hire people with your skills, or is an industry you have been wanting more information about, you can start to deepen your questions while continuing to gauge the receptivity of this person by asking:
5) What kind of people/skills are most in demand in your sector? (You might also ask how big they are: how many people work there? Medium to large companies are more likely to have many departments and, ergo, more potential job openings! Plus more variety in jobs.)
6) Does your organization ever fill roles for people with (list your top 3 skills based on what you think would be most in demand). Your company/sector sounds like an engaging one! (Only if they do, of course!!!) Is there anyone you know of who might be available to speak with me and have an informational interview? Maybe someone in the relevant department (specific area you’ve determined could relate most to your skills) or the HR department (for more general information source)?
B) You’re not hearing anything that really resonates with you, so you can double back to the weather, food or sports discussion again then, fairly soon after, extricate yourself and move on to another likely candidate. No harm, no foul!
Okay, so when there is a potential opportunity to dig into and learn more…then what?
Ask advice: this is the next major step to facilitating that all important 2nd conversation, which I recommend takes place at a neutral time far, far away from the cocktail party: the follow up, more formal information interview that this new contact will hopefully help you arrange.
Final Move: at the end of your initial holiday party confab (especially if they’ve agreed to broker a meeting for you with their company), make sure you get their business card or jot down their particulars/contact info. Always make a couple of identifying notes on the back of the card so you can recall something unique about them that will help you reconnect with them in either your follow up email or call.
Which brings me to the … POST PARTY ACTIONS:
Remember: don’t expect instant results!
Always, always, always… follow up within a few days or weeks; reminding your new contact where you chatted with them and what you talked about. You can do this through LinkedIn, if you can find them there. And since it’s always nice to offer them some recompense for their time, inviting them for coffee (or lunch) is a great way to start developing a longer-term relationship.
Sure it can happen, but it’s really more like a lottery win when you land a job after just one meeting. This is more like starting a diet or exercise plan; you have to put in some time and effort before you see satisfying results!
Keep the faith! Your new connection may not bear fruit for weeks, months or even years down the road. Or they could introduce to a colleague who opens your next new job door. The closer you can get to people who can help you get closer to jobs or companies you recognize as being on your top 20 list, the better your chances of landing a position you’re really excited about.
Friends First: If any of this scares you or makes you worry about imposing on strangers, practice informational interviewing with people you know. Very few of us truly know what our friends and families do at work or what their companies are all about.
Most people are happy to be asked about their job and what they do. And, if you take that tack, instead of asking if they know of any jobs at their company, you’re likely to get a lot more traction.
Proviso: each of these questions and scenarios are only loose approximations of what you might say. Above all else, you need to stay light on your feet to flow with the conversation’s natural momentum. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same goes for networking in any capacity. The more you practice it the better you’ll get and the more naturally you’ll come across.
FINAL PEP TALK!
Don’t burn yourself out: try not to spend any more than 15-20 minutes with a possible contact at any one event. And try to meet 3 new people, then take a break, relax, go talk to someone you know; then do 2-3 more and call it a night!
Your Ultimate Goal: getting closer to the Hidden Job Market – where experts still say anywhere from 60-70% of jobs are found – is primarily accomplished only by one-on-one networking and, fortunately for us nowadays, on LinkedIn.
And what’s the bottom-line here for success? Talking to more people, and regularly so you build lasting networking relationships. That’s it! The key secret to finding more and better job opportunities -- and not just while you’re out of a job, either! But that’s a whole other blog article!
Possible stumbling blocks: when your target turns the tables on you and asks about your job, only you’re unemployed. Is the jig up? Will they, realizing your true job-seeking intent, scurry off to the punchbowl, leaving you uncomfortably chastened and alone?
Not a chance! You can handle this! Deftly sidestep it or re-direct it into something more upbeat. You could say you’re looking at making a career change or you’re taking some time off to research new options – hence your interest in his/her area of work. (Remember: Investigative Reporter hat on and firmly in place!)
Or you can distract them by changing the subject but still highlighting some of your interests/talents. Maybe mentioning some volunteer activities you're involved in or find a way to turn the conversation around to skills you are using or want to use more! This is a great opportunity to throw the questions back at them and ask their advice about how they got where they are or how they shifted into a new direction, themselves? Even if they're in a completely different field from you, they may have amazing insights that are universal and very applicable to you.
If you’re currently seeking a career change or readjustment, you can definitely tell them what you are looking for (again, keep it brief – this is where a 60 Second Sell that you’ve prepared ahead of time – and which you can adjust on the spot comes in handy).
In case you are planning to meet them again -- as you should be at this point, otherwise why are you still talking to them? -- never say you’re working if you’re not. It will likely come out at some point, or they may check up on your LinkedIn profile and see you were fibbing, then they may question your honesty. But it’s not lying, even if you are up to your armpits in job searching, to say you’re taking some time off to explore new career directions and find a really great fit.
Everyone can identify with that. I know, because I hear it every day and, more often than not, from people who are currently in a job already!
So, now that you're fully armed and ready, get out there and interact with some "real people" this holiday season. May the networking force be with you!
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: I know some folks may think this post is too detailed and long but I've found that so many of my clients, most through EAP and private career transition coaching, want more details and examples vs. the typically short blog posts which feature a numbered "to do" list, scant on real-life steps to take that don't really tell them "how" to do the career development, interview, or job search/change related activities.)