Sunday, April 14, 2013

Avoid the #1 "Conversation-Killing" Networking Question - PART 1: How to . . .Set the Stage for a Good Conversation

Do you know of any job openings?  
        If the answer is “NO,” it’ll be a short conversation.

“Do you know of any job openings?” is an ill-advised way to open a networking conversation.  In fact, it’s a “conversation killer!”
Why can’t you ask this “conversation-killer” question? . . . Because if the answer is “No I don’t”, there’s little more to say.  It leaves your network contact with little to nothing to say TO HELP YOU - which is the point of the get-together - right?

Another approach. . .
Instead, open the conversation with an approach that leaves little doubt as to why you are meeting with your contact, and what you hope to gain by asking good open-ended questions.  And prepare your contact by telling him or her about your professional experience and capabilities and what you have to offer a new employer!

The Make-Up of a Good Conversation
Let’s take a step back and look at what makes for a good conversation, which also applies to any effective and productive networking conversation or meeting.

1.  A good balance of give and take -- Generally, a good, or productive, conversation can be described as one in which two people exchange information freely, and there’s a good balance of “give and take.”  In other words, the dialogue is free-flowing, with one party offering some information, asking questions, and the other party doing exactly the same thing.  There’s a balance and both people feel they are contributing as well as deriving benefit (or in the case of the job seeker future potential benefit).

2.  A good comfort level  --  A good, or productive, conversation is generally characterized by a “good comfort level” between the two parties.  The meeting requester, in this case the job seeker, has done his or her meeting pre-work to establish an initial comfort level.  The job seeker has prepared the networking contact by being clear about the purpose of the meeting, shared information about his or her own professional background and job search progress, and clarified what he or she hopes to get from the contact.

3.  There’s no such thing as a stupid question  --    Both feel comfortable to offer their knowledge, thoughts, and opinions without fear that the other party will belittle or not value the input.  Each also feels free to ask any kind of question, without fearing that they are asking the “stupid question.”

A Productive Networking Conversation Strategy
So, there you have it - how to establish the atmosphere in which to have an effective and productive networking conversation.  Now, if you can’t ask --  Do you know of any job openings?  --  what can you ask?  Here's an approach, a 2-fold strategy, to accomplish your purposes of selling yourself and learning from your contact.

Plan and prepare a 2-fold strategy:
(1)  Sell yourself.  Begin by telling your network contact about yourself:  Why you are on the market for new employment; this is, in effect, your “L”vator speech.  Then tell them why you requested to speak with them; this is an opportunity to compliment the person on their knowledge of the industry, their reputation for being a leader or a fountain of information when it comes to their profession, or a real “Who’s Who” when it comes to knowing “everybody who’s anybody” in the industry.  A little schmoozing can go a long way.

And, your objective is to sell yourself short- and long-term.  Get your networking contact thinking about you long after you conversation is over so that when your network contact does come across a job lead, or meets a person who could be helpful to your search, he/she will think of you!
(2)  Learn from your contact.  Plan to ask questions that draw your networking contact out.  Ask questions that get him or her talking, and sharing information.  Design your questions to . . . .
    - Elicit information, and
    - Learn about these 4 things:  good organizations your contact is aware of; people your contact could refer you to; good professional associations or groups that could you could benefit from; and headhunters (executive search firms) or employment agencies that are effective.

Remember, your purpose, in a 1-to-1 networking conversation or meeting, is 2-fold:  To gain the interest and support of your networking contact so that they think of how they can help you long after your conversation is over, as well as to learn what the other person knows that can be helpful to you in finding your next position or role.

Planning and preparing a good and productive networking conversation or meeting is not hard.  But, it does take some work - work that pays dividends down the road in the form of opportunities!
For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.
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