The thought of attending networking events sends shivers up the spines of many well-intentioned professionals who understand the importance of building a strong network, but are uncomfortable mingling with groups of strangers. While networking events certainly offer convenient opportunities to gather with like-minded professionals, they are not the most effective form of networking.
Because of the pressure to network, many professionals feel obligated to network for the sake of networking. They forget that the goal of networking is not to collect business cards from people whom they will never see again, but to build mutually rewarding relationships with professionals who can help them achieve their goals. Therefore, the most effective networking encounters generally happen when two people authentically connect, not when large groups of people deliver scripted introductions and exchange pleasantries.
If you want to maximize your networking efforts, engage in informational interviews. These targeted meetings tend to be more personal and productive than networking in groups. Whether you are currently unemployed and seeking a new career opportunity, or you are actively employed and interested in advancing your career, informational interviews are a highly effective networking strategy.
Here are 5 tips to help you achieve success with informational interviews.
1. Leverage your existing network
Many professionals worry that their limited networks will make it difficult to find others to interview. No matter how small it may feel, everyone has a network. If you are having difficulty finding contacts, tap into family, friends, and former colleagues to gain introductions to professionals in your target field or industry. As you begin to meet others, your network will grow exponentially.
2. Ask for 15 minutes of their time
When making a request to meet with someone, be respectful of their time. Most professionals are very busy and can’t imagine finding time for another meeting. If you ask for 15 minutes, most people can squeeze that into their schedules. Typically, if the conversation goes well, it will extend beyond the 15 minutes anyway. If the discussion does run longer, as a courtesy, remind them that you had only requested 15 minutes and let them decide if they would like to continue the conversation.
3. Don’t ask for a job
The purpose of an informational interview is not to ask for a job, but to gain additional information on a particular role, company, or industry. You want to build a relationship by asking about your contact’s experience, career path, insights, and advice. An informational interview may result in career opportunities, but that is not the objective.
4. Offer value
Many professionals are reluctant to request informational interviews because of the perception that they are taking without giving something in return. Find a way to offer value to your contacts. By learning as much as possible about them in advance, you can understand their interests or goals. Offer value by sending them relevant articles, notifying them of an upcoming event, or offering to facilitate an introduction to someone in your network.
5. Request additional contacts
Conclude each informational interview by thanking the person and asking if he/she can recommend any additional contacts with whom you should meet. This is a great way to continue to expand your network in a very strategic way. If they offer you additional contacts, ask them if they would be willing to facilitate an introduction, or if it is okay if you use their name when you introduce yourself.
While networking events may offer opportunities to gain new information and interact with like-minded professionals, informational interviews are a much more effective way to build meaningful relationships. If you’re new to informational interviewing, follow these steps to maximize the process. If you’re still uncomfortable, contact me for support on a customized networking strategy to best meet your specific goals.