In the late 2000’s Jack found himself out of work. He had been at his dream job for years and expected to stay with the company for many more years. Instead, his company was bought by a competitor and his job was cut. Jack hadn’t needed to look for a job since the 1990’s, and discovered the job market had changed drastically. He now had to compete with hundreds, if not thousands of other applicants for one position and he felt lost during the entire job search process. His career suddenly had no direction. It took Jack almost two years to land another job.
After two years of unemployment, Jack had enough of the constant job rejections and knew it was time for a change. He enlisted my help and together we rebranded his résumé to stand out and highlight his unique qualifications. He also used the 7 steps that I outline in this article (see below), in order to set an agenda for the conversations he would have, to garner powerful introductions within his industry, and to get his job search back on track. It wasn’t long before Jack was given one job offer, and then by sustaining the agenda and the momentum, was offered additional jobs. You can listen to Jack’s entire story and his happy ending on episode 3 of our Tales from the Flipside Podcast.
You may be like Jack and discover your long-time career is coming to an end. Or, perhaps you’re ready to change employers. Instead of fretting over your next job, you can set the stage for a bidding war between employers. Imagine being scouted for your talent by multiple companies, and having the confidence to command the salary you want. By setting the agenda for conversations with others in your industry, you inspire powerful introductions, and give momentum to your job search. Whatever your employment situation is, you want to ensure any conversation could potentially become a job lead. Your next job lead could come from an unexpected place. It could come from a networking event, an old colleague you ran into at the grocery store or a follow-up phone call from a new LinkedIn connection. Use these 7 steps to set an agenda for your conversations and forge meaningful connections that turn into job leads.
1. Do Your Research Beforehand:
Before you start a conversation you’ll first have to do your research. What does a company need, and how can you contribute to them with your skill set?
As you prepare for your conversation learn more about the person. Where does he or she work? Is their company your next ideal employer? Can they help introduce you to other influential people within your industry? When you have the chance to introduce yourself, demonstrate you’ve done the research by already knowing who they are and what they do. However, there is one caveat. If you claim to know too much about someone, it can come off a little creepy and make people run. Stick to what they publicly share. Mention the common connections you may have and direct the conversation toward mutual interests, hobbies and/or your industry. For instance, “Did you happen to read the latest blog by Google’s CTO? It raised some very interesting points about virtualization and security”. A compliment is always a fall-back approach, as long as it’s genuine.
The point is not to start a conversation off by broadcasting the fact that you’re looking for a job, or to only talk about yourself. Focus on sharing your industry-related opinions, insights and advice, while asking for theirs in return. You may have done your research before a conversation, but you can use the opportunity to learn more about them.
2. Hone Your Networking Pitch:
Your networking pitch can be thought of as a commercial about your professional brand. Create various pitches that are molded to the needs of various audiences. If you’re meeting an industry contact for coffee, have a specific pitch ready. If you’re meeting with recruiters and hiring managers at a networking event, use a completely different pitch. The length of your networking pitch can vary, depending on the situation or audience. If your time is limited, it might be 30 seconds. If you have a lot conversation time, it may be 90 seconds or longer. The “commercial” communicates who you are, what you’re looking for, and more importantly, how you can be beneficial to a person or their company. It should entice a person to learn more about you, and how you can help them. In other words, having a deep understanding of your skills, qualifications and other strengths, and knowing how you will be an asset to someone can help sell your brand.
Your networking pitch consists of two major parts:
1) A very short way to tell people about what you do by talking FIRST about the impact that you make. E.g., “I optimize career and income trajectories for corporate professionals and independent contractors by teaching them how to harness the power of personal branding and social media.”
2) Anecdotes that support four to six primary pillars of your brand. Look for cues in the conversation to recall these anecdotes.
These anecdotes sell your networking pitch and are a great opportunity to illustrate how your skills could help a person and/or their employer. Recall past achievements and bad situations you helped rectify. It could be the time company e-mails stopped working and you diligently stayed on top of the problem until it was solved. Or, you could mention the time you helped your employer save time and money by completing your last project early and on budget. When someone knows their employer has a problem that needs to be solved, you want to be the solution they think of first.
This is also a good time to illustrate your passion for the job. If you love waking up every morning to crunch numbers, and type out lines of code, convey this during your discussion. Show your passion for the industry by keeping abreast of news, and by mentioning some of the industry groups you’ve joined. If you have projects of passion you do outside of work, mention them. I have a friend who loves coding. During the day he works as a software engineer at a large cable company. In his free time, he loves to create apps that are useful to others. His latest app is a secure password generator that anyone can use for free. His love of software development is apparent to everyone who knows him. Likewise, your passion and excitement can be positively inspiring and contagious to others.
3. Ask Questions:
Learn even more about someone by asking them questions during your conversation. Job-related questions can consist of what they love about their job, or some of their favorite moments at work. You can even steer the conversation away from work-related questions. Ask them about the city they’re currently living in, a favorite sports team, or even a favorite musician. Those common connections will help break the ice and build a rapport. A good rule-of-thumb to remember is people love to talk about themselves.
When you have a conversation it is important to not only ask questions, but to listen to what a person has to say. That person should have your undivided attention for the duration of a conversation. If you’re meeting in person, and your phone is buzzing, ignore it—except for an emergency. By listening, you may find out more about a person’s employer, their own employment situation and you can think of ways to be of assistance. You never know who has the power to give your career transition the extra push it may need.
In addition to listening, you can offer to help. They may need a referral from you, or another important favor. By helping others you can establish yourself as someone dependable and trustworthy. But people don’t always ask for help when they need it. It takes a little more work to find out how you can be of service, which brings us to our next step.
5. Identify Needs:
Every person with whom you are in contact is working on SOMETHING, be it personal or professional, for which they could use some assistance. Use the conversation as a way to identify what this is, even if you are not sure yet how you can help. If a person doesn’t ask, you need to be an investigator and coach your contact to tell you where they need assistance. Think of it as giving people a way to help YOU help THEM. Your contact could need a referral, an introduction to someone in your network, or advice to help finish a project. Again, you may never know what they need unless you take the time to ask. Examples of what you can ask include, “What are you working on lately?” What are your company’s goals for 2015?” What do you think you’ll do after this position?” and even “Is there something you wish would be done already?”
6. Express Needs:
Identifying a person’s needs can evolve into expressing your own needs. Just as YOU need to know about someone’s needs before they can help you, THEY have to be encouraged to know your needs before they can help YOU. Make it a point to ASK the other person:
- A) If they know anyone in X company, especially (but not exclusively) in X department, and/or:
- B) If they have ever heard anyone complain about [insert problem you have resolved for your previous company or companies].
This is technically TRAINING your contacts to produce leads for you. This works much better than asking people if they know anyone hiring an [insert title]. People need guidance on how to coach people on what they need to succeed. This step is one of the most valuable actions on this list. If you can only try ONE thing from this list, it is this. (Though, we expect that you are fully capable of doing all the suggestions at some point).
Shaking hands, listening, and telling people all about yourself won’t matter if you don’t follow up with them after a conversation. A follow-up is the perfect way to cement your name in the minds of the people with whom you connected. Keep track of who you talked to and e-mail them directly after your conversation with a “Thank you” note. A simple and quick e-mail that recaps the conversation and reminds them of the next meeting will suffice. If you want to leave a lasting impression, send them a handwritten “Thank you” note. A handwritten note can be strategic because it can sit on a person’s desk and is a visible reminder of a conversation. After that, give each of the attendees a call and invite them out for coffee. If you haven’t already connected with them on LinkedIn, do so. Do something proactively within a week to try to be of service or meet their needs. If there wasn’t a specific action item, follow up within two weeks. Schedule another follow up every month if you are in active job search mode, or every 3-6 months when you are not.
Here’s my challenge to you: Use this guide for three conversations next week and share with us in the comments section, on Twitter or Facebook what is generated as a result.
A focused agenda for any conversation with a contact in your industry, and a powerful introduction can take your job search to new heights. An inspiring introduction can lead to further conversations, friendships, referrals and job offers. You will have the opportunity to help others, forge strong connections, and unveil your brilliance. Recall my anecdote with Jack earlier. One conversation lead to multiple job offers. Imagine how one conversation can have a huge impact on your job search, confidence and momentum. One conversation can lead to a meeting, then two meetings, and then lead to five more meetings. Suddenly, you’re in a bidding war and you’re eliciting job offers from multiple employers. Some of these offers, if not most, are unexpected. This confidence enables you to pick the opportunity that is best for you and ask for a salary more in alignment with your desired lifestyle.