Networking Is About Us, Not You

Networking Is About Us, Not You

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Q: For my job search I'm interested in finding out more about companies that specialize in "green" products, but I don't know whom to contact. I've identified a company I really want to speak with, but how do I get in to see one of its executives? And once I'm sitting across from him, what do I say?

A: If you want a favor from a stranger, be prepared to offer him a motive for focusing on your needs instead of putting the time into his own pressing projects. Suppose you've decided to call the COO of your target company. You have never met the guy and you don't know anyone who can introduce you. How can you interest him in a networking appointment?

If it's publicly owned, get an annual report. Use Google to find articles about the firm in business or trade magazines. Talk to other people in your network to see if they know anyone in the firm who can give you inside information ahead of time. Ask local business reporters or professors about their insights. You probably think these busy, high-profile professionals won't take the time to talk to you, but they often will.

Given everything you know about the firm, what information is of greatest interest to you? Is it the expansion into Mexico, the company's marketing ideas, its recent acquisition of a complimentary business, or something else?

What are his hot-button issues? Based upon your reading, can you think of any solutions for his current or long-term issues? Have you had any similar experiences that might be useful to him? Can you send him any articles or studies that would give him food for thought?

  • Find out as much as you can about his company
  • Plan your phone call
  • What do you know that might be helpful to the COO?

After you've done some brainstorming, select several key "hooks" you think would intrigue him enough to schedule an appointment with you, then start your call with something like this:

"Hi. This is Taunee Besson. I've been doing quite a bit of research lately on "green" companies. Your company keeps emerging as a well-managed organization with outstanding growth through new product introductions, savvy acquisitions and a very successful expansion into Mexico.

"Having recently returned from establishing my company's industrial product lines in Chile and Brazil, I would enjoy meeting you to trade war stories on doing business in Latin America. I would also like to discuss your potential interest in expanding to South America in the near future. I have some preliminary ideas about how my experience could be useful in that regard. What do you think? Shall we get together next week over lunch or at your office?"

Granted, the COO doesn't know you from a hole in the ground, but you've certainly captured his attention. He may decide to make an appointment with you as you talk on the phone or check you out before he commits himself. Either way, if you genuinely have something to offer, the likelihood of your scheduling a meeting is excellent because your initial conversation emphasized what you can do for him, instead of vice versa.

Once you've secured an appointment, plan an agenda. You'll assure a mutually productive networking experience if you do your homework and prepare well-researched, intelligent questions. Don't waste valuable time with queries you can easily answer online.

Concentrate on asking about the company, its culture, philosophy and plans for the future. Find out from your interviewee about his career with the organization. Determine if he believes you could add value by bringing new skills and perspectives to the table, and if there are other key managers you should be contacting.

Whether you are considering a position, uncovering a contact or asking for an overview of a career or industry, always consider how your conversation can be beneficial for both parties. By keeping your contact's best interests at heart, you will create a win-win situation and pave the way for other collaborative networkers.

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career
Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with
individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search,
executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is
an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling
author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and
cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have
appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business
journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a
number of other websites and publications.

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