As Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn, and other such social/business networking websites take off, the incredible value of networking should be obvious.
The problem is, you can’t conduct all your networking online. Don’t get me wrong, a LinkedIn account is a must for business professionals willing to make use of it (and DO; it’s becoming more and more effective for career placement). We’ll examine this phenomenon closer in a future post, but for now, let’s look at face-to-face networking.
Getting an informational meeting with a professional in your career field can be extremely valuable even if it doesn’t result in employment right off the bat. Find out about the company and industry; discover what they look for in a job candidate; most of all GET KNOWN BY PEOPLE WHO WILL BE HIRING, and NETWORK FROM THERE. Never leave an informational meeting without asking for other people you can talk to that are knowledgeable and influential in the industry. Consider the meeting to be a place where you can ask all the questions you need to get a job there (or somewhere the interviewer can send you). “Do you know of someone here or within the industry who can use someone with my skills?” This can be a very productive question.
So, how do you get informational meetings with people you don’t know? The Networking Letter (NL).
The NL is a combination of your cover letter and resume. Project your value by identifying your proposed profession and the skills/knowledge you have to add value in such a position. Then pull the “WOW” bullets from your resume (those items that best demonstrate your results and value) and include them in your NL with an stem sentence such as: “Please consider:”
Your closing paragraph should summarize your potential impact on the company and then ask for a meeting to discuss company goals, industry update, or any relevant request the addressee could address. Do not ask for an interview or a job; you’re asking for information and an introduction.
VERY IMPORTANT: The sign off should indicate that you will call them but they are welcome to contact you in the interim. Then CALL THEM. Do not attach a resume; bring it to the meeting.
At the meeting, hand them your resume to show you are a professional in the field and express your interest in the company. Make it a conversation, not an interview. Treat the person you’re meeting with as an adviser. Ask questions, be up front that you’re looking for a position but mostly you want to learn about the company and get on their “radar screen.” Ask for their card, ask if you can add them to your LinkedIn friends, and ask if they know someone who can use your skills.
Do plenty of these kinds of meetings (especially when you’re still in school!) and build your network. Keep notes, send a Thank You card, and keep in touch. A mutual professional and emotional investment created by occassional contact yields dividends.