Being out of work, you might not be in a position to come up with a great deal of money and go to a lot of networking events that require registration. And even if you are employed and wanting to expand your networking skills, you may not have the desire to shell out a hundred dollars to go to some conference where you can network for a few straight days. So what to do?
Well, do you have $5.00 or less? If you do, one of the easiest things is to call up some of your connections, references, colleagues or business partners and suggest the two of you meet for a cup of coffee or tea at a local bistro. It could go something like this; “Hello Jim? Hi it’s Kelly Mitchell, how are you? Listen I’ve been wanting to call to ask if you would you be willing to meet one day next week over lunch? I’m doing some career research and planning and I’d value your input and thoughts.”
Do you think you have the assertiveness to pick up the phone, call a contact of yours and say something like that? What’s the best that could happen? Or the other hand, are you worried about what’s the worst that could happen? So you meet and bring along a copy of your latest resume and cover letter for a job you either want now, or recently applied for. Maybe you even have a posting for a job or jobs you recently applied for.
In the conversation above, by stating that you value the person’s feedback – and you should – you stand a greater chance of meeting face-to-face. When you do meet, you’ve got to get the ball rolling and then do your best to do a minimal amount of talking so you can get the feedback you asked for. They may have questions that will prompt you to answer and move the discussion along. This isn’t the time to get your nose out-of-joint and defend yourself if you end up being given constructive criticism, nor is it a time to dismiss suggestions for action because you aren’t willing to do things suggested.
Best to have a pen and paper handy and jot down any names and phone numbers you are provided with as future contacts, a daily agenda of some sort to fill in a date etc. If you did bring along your resume or a short portfolio of your work, be prepared to give it away to your contact. Leaving it in their hands is a good way to prompt them to keep you in mind. Maybe you’ll get an offer for a subsequent meeting when they’ve had time to critique it, or they pass it on to someone they know who you might be a good fit with. Who knows?
Presumably you’re paying for your lunch and they are paying for theirs. While they might have a sandwich and soup plus a tea or coffee, you’ve opted for a tea. So you’re spending up to 60 minutes with a colleague at a cost of $1.80. Not a bad investment.
Another strategy that some people employ is to arrange such a meeting and forward your resume and some questions in writing in advance of your meeting. This may result in a more productive meeting where feedback is forthcoming immediately. “Hi Kelly, good to see you again. I’ve looked over the information you passed my way, and I have some thoughts on how to improve things.” If you sit down with this scenario, your job is to primarily listen, consider and respond to questions posed. If you do most of the talking over the hour you are together, it’s not going to be all that helpful when you reflect back later on what you’ve got out of it.
What is essential in these meetings is to ensure you express honest appreciation for the person’s time and their unbiased feedback. However, it is entirely unrealistic to expect that person to tell you what you should do to get your career on track. You are you, they are someone else. What’s right for you isn’t what would be right for them, and I know I’m careful not to tell others what they should do, but suggestions are usually welcome.
Of course these networking meetings can be even more useful for those currently employed. Getting up the nerve to call a colleague you haven’t met face-to-face before but know through LinkedIn, or maybe your company directory can be equally or more beneficial. It could go, “Hello Brenda? Kelly Mitchell here. We’re connected via LinkedIn. I was hoping I might be able to arrange a face-to-face meeting say over coffee or tea, to introduce myself in-person and get perhaps network a little. Would you be open to that?”
Your conversation might be something akin to what I’ve suggested in this blog. You may of course have other words that better fit with your personality. I suggest these for those folks who tell me, “I wouldn’t know how to begin or what to say”. Relax, it’s just a conversation and it’s not aggressive or threatening. Go on the proactive and you’ll see how easy it becomes to be thought of by others as networking savvy!