From Mike Kohn. Have an urban etiquette right that needs to be wronged? Find Mike on Twitter at@mike_kohn or email him at mike[AT]borderstan.com.
With the job market as it is, any new contact is a good one, right? While it seems like that’s the case, burning a bridge with someone you just met doesn’t quite do what you’re looking to accomplish (obviously). As someone who works in human resources and has recently transitioned into a new job, I can vouch for the value of networking.
Despite my strong need to do things on my own, looking at it from the other side, if a highly valued employee is willing to put their reputation on the line in order to represent a contact of theirs, it stands to reason that they’re someone worth talking to. No, they may not be the best person to fill a particular job, but the point is to get a foot in the door — and then the rest is up to them from there.
The best time to do some networking is when you’re not immediately looking for a job. You’re looking for these relationships to be mutually beneficial. In other words, you want to avoid being the person who only gets in touch when they need a job or some other favor. That being said, if that’s the position you’re in, then that’s where you are, and you’ve just got to power through.
Some Steps to Remember
Let’s say you’re given the information of someone you would like to meet through a current contact. So what are some things to keep in mind?
- Do reach out. You’ve got nothing to lose by sending a nice email or phone call asking if you can learn more about someone and their organization by spending 30 minutes with them at coffee or lunch, etc. While you’re naturally looking for a yes, don’t be hurt if you get declined. If that does happen, be sure to respond kindly — you never know when your paths may cross, not to mention this was a referral from your contact.
- Don’t delay in responding to your contact’s connection. If you’re not interested, say so. If you are, don’t wait for three weeks. This is particularly important if your contact has given their connection a heads up, or if your contact sends a note to both you and the new connection.
- Do plan ahead to make sure you get out of your conversation what you want. You’re getting in touch, so you’re setting the agenda. The new connection may have things they want to share, but you need to do your preparation in advance, including getting a basic knowledge of who the person is, and why you’re meeting with them so you both can be in the other’s network.
- Do ask a lot of questions when you’re talking.
- Do listen. And listen. And listen some more.
- Don’t monopolize the conversation by talking about yourself. That’s not why you’re there.
- Maybe ask if you can pass along your resume in case opportunities crop up that are a good fit for you. If the vibe feels right like you’ve made a reasonable connection and it seems like this person can help, then go for it, but use your best judgment. Again, if you’re not in an “I need a job right now” situation, then you can relax and save this for a later time.
- Do send a follow-up thanking the connection for their time. Seems like this would be common sense, but it’s not. This one goes a long way for someone you’d like to do you a favor.
The question of payment does come up frequently, particularly if you’re going for coffee or lunch. Personally, I’m indifferent. If you’re in a position where you can afford it, then go right ahead and offer to take someone out — they’re doing you a favor, so you might as well pick up their latte, and they’ll appreciate it. If you don’t feel like you can, then don’t sweat it.
If you’re unsure and feeling uneasy about what to do, plan on paying and at least make the offer to pay (and go for coffee, not a meal).
Any other networking tips you’ve found useful in your travels?