At a recent job-seeker networking event, each participant was asked to give an elevator speech of less than three minutes. We were asked to share who we were, a bit about our background, and most importantly we were asked: how can the group help you?
As beneficial as events like this can be in meeting new people and making new connections, if you can’t articulate the answer to that question, the people you meet won’t know how to help you, regardless of your goal.
Before you hit your next networking event, here’s your to-do list so that you’re prepared to ask for exactly the help that you need:
1. Document your goals – For job seekers, this is a job search mission statement. Develop a concrete picture of where you want to be, and use that to guide your networking efforts.
2. Identify positions that would meet that goal – Based on your parameters, identify companies in your area that might have positions that meet your needs. Then, narrow down what areas in the company are appropriate to your skills and to what you have targeted as your next career step.
3. Figure out what you need to get your foot in the door in one of these organizations – Things you may want to ask for: contacts with hiring managers, informational interviews, perspective on company culture, hiring practices, strategic direction, etc. Anything that might open a door to a job or to information that can help you filter and focus your job search.
4. Just ask — If the event you’re attending is for job seekers, people will expect to offer and receive help making connections that will further their job search. Be clear about how people can help you. Your fellow networkers are more likely to be able to help you meet a specific goal (a connection with the Sales Manager at Company Y) than something vague (a connection with anyone who can help you.) It’s your job to know who can assist you in meeting your goals. You show that kind of clarity, and people will respond.
5. Don’t push — Understand, however, that people are protective of their professional reputations. If you’ve never met someone before, it’s difficult to expect that they will recommend you to their colleagues. Remember that the foundation of any networking effort is building trust, and you may need to work on that before you can expect a payoff. Remember that networking is a long-term effort, and respect people if they push back.