Tips For Making That “Networking” Meeting More Fruitful

Back in the early days of my career, I made a point to go on frequent informational interviews. These meetings, which were usually conducted in person, gave me a chance to sit down with people who were successful in their field and to learn from their experience. I never overtly asked people for a job or anything more than a little of their time. My goal was to learn, and possibly to make an acquaintance that could prove fruitful in later years. I’ve always advised young career-seekers to get as many informational interviews as they can. At the very least, they’re good practice for the firing line of a real job interview.

The strategy paid off for me when I was assigned to write a profile of Paul McPherson, then the president of McGraw-Hill Publishing, for an alumni magazine. At the end of our interview, I asked McPherson if he would mind if I contacted him from time to time for advice on careers in publishing. He generously consented, and two years later put me onto a lead that got me my first real journalism job.

Today, the shoe is on the other foot. Every couple of months, I get an inquiry from someone starting or switching a career who‘s looking for advice. I almost always agree to these meetings, but I often find them unsatisfactory. Over the past 20 years, the informational interview has been replaced by “networking.” The meeting is now all about the job-seeker’s needs, with very little benefit to the advice-giver. This is a shame, because I’m less likely to remember an encounter that has no value to me.

I think today’s “networkers” should steal a few tips from informational interviews. Here’s my advice:

Do your research. The fact that it’s so easy to find background information on almost anyone today makes it all the more astounding that so many people don’t.  Within 10 minutes, anyone can learn that I was born in Hong Kong, graduated from Boston University, have written four books, am a passionate Boston Red Sox fan and enjoy scuba diving. These are all entry points to the conversation, yet rarely do my meeting companions appear to know anything more than the basics about me. This shows a lack of resourcefulness on their part, and resourcefulness is a key skill for survival in these tumultuous times.

Have an agenda. I hate chit-chat, and I suspect the same is true for a lot of busy people. Planning the meeting gives you a better chance to achieve your objective and me the opportunity to prepare. If you want contacts who’ll help you find a job, say so and I’ll bring some. If you want to learn from my experience, then have questions along those lines. Don’t leave the discussion open-ended, because then I’ll start asking you a lot of questions and you’ll get a lot less out of the session.

Ask questions. People like to talk about themselves, so give them that opportunity. This is why the interview format works so well. If the meeting is all about the person seeking advice, it’s a lot less interesting to the  person giving it. That means they’ll be less likely to remember you.

You’ve asked for a meeting in order to learn, so have some questions ready. Ask about their secrets of success, the turning points in their career, mistakes they’ve made, memorable people they’ve met. Believe me, the more you get them talking about themselves, the more highly they’ll regard you.

Give value, too. I don’t mean this to sound self-serving, because I believe people who have been successful should lend a helping hand to those just starting. However, the “networking” encounter is going to be a lot more fulfilling if both parties see some return. This is where blogging is a fabulous tool. Instead of asking to “network,” offer to write up the interview and post it on your blog, or just point a Flip cam at the person’s face and post the video clip along with a link to their website. This gives both parties something to show for the encounter.

If you can’t think of a way to give value, ask the one question that no one has ever asked me in a networking meeting: “What can I do to help you?” This will surprise and flatter the person you’re meeting. Even if they can’t think of anything, they’ll remember you.

Follow up. Perhaps one in every three people who ask to meet for the purpose of “networking” ever bothers to send so much as an e-mail thank-you note. This baffles me, since I learned at an early age that thank-yous were a common courtesy when requesting a favor of another person. Your best chance to be remembered by the person you’ve just met is in the days immediately following the encounter. A thank-you note reinforces the impression you’ve made. It’s even better if you can tell the person how you’re putting their advice to work. Add 10 bonus points if you write the note by hand and send it in the US Mail.

Those are a few quick tips from me. What advice do you have?

How Twitter Got Shannon Her First Job

Shannon LehotskyShannon Lehotsky (SLehotsky) is a 2009 graduate of Emerson College, where I often speak to marketing and communications students. Last fall she contacted me to ask about ideas a new graduate could use to find a job. I gave her a few, but she went much farther that my advice. I got an e-mail from her last week about how she’s been leveraging Twitter to build a network and find work. The new crop of graduates who are set to hit the bricks in a couple of months could learn something from Shannon. The sentence in bold below is my own emphasis.

I’d like to share with you how Twitter has been helping me build my professional network (thanks to your advice!). I started when I moved to New York City after graduating in December, knowing no more than 5 people. I only had one or two job leads, so I pretty much had to start from the ground up:

– I created a new Twitter account and starting following industry professionals, job listings (@nyprjobs, @InternQueen), and industry publications (@Mashable).

– I started tweeting things relevant to my career to attract followers in the industry and make me develop a a brand as a thought leader.

– I avoided inappropriate or annoying tweets. On a few of my interviews, the interviewer mentioned that they looked at my Twitter account to learn more about me. (It seemed like a similar situation to Facebook, where a social platform is visible to professionals which can be detrimental to your career.)

– I joined the conversation! My goal was to get noticed, so I tried to keep all of my tweets thoughtful and relevant and directed to people so they weren’t just floating aimlessly in the Twitterverse. For example I’m following @EmersonAlumni, and they retweeted me once. I gained a few followers from that, including one fellow alum in New York City who put me in contact with another alum who was a job recruiter.

– A few people who I worked with previously would retweet job postings to me. Since it’s microblogging, a quick tweet isn’t too intrusive and it is less time-consuming than an e-mail.

– It is easier to find out people’s Twitter names rather than their e-mails. A quick tweet to a company to show that I was interested in them was sometimes the best way to contact people, especially smaller companies. It also shows that you are media savvy.

– Checking out Twitter accounts is also a good way to find out about company culture. When I applied for jobs, I would look them up on LinkedIn, Google, and then Twitter to see what topics they were talking about.

So those are just a few ways that Twitter has helped me to brand myself. I’ve found that sending out a resume is not enough to get a job in this market – networking is a necessity in the process and Twitter has definitely been helpful.

Job hunting has been a long process but I’ve accepted a job at a website ( and I’m excited to continue to work online.

More about Shanon.

Job-Hunting 2.0

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

Traffic to the popular business social networking site doubled following the stock market meltdown of last fall, according to media reports. That’s not surprising, given LinkedIn’s utility as a way to create and nurture business relationships. Business professionals have a vast variety of tools available to them today to look for jobs and in an economy like this one, it behooves you to use as many as you can.

I’ve hired more than 200 people in my 20 years of management, and I’ve learned what makes a candidate stand out as memorable and potentially hirable. Here are some ideas for incorporating Internet services into your search.

Get recommendations — One of LinkedIn’s more intriguing features is the ability to ask business colleagues for recommendations. You should do this on an ongoing basis, not only when you’re looking for a job. The best time to ask is when a person’s impressions of you are still fresh. They’re more likely to give you an enthusiastic endorsement if you’ve just help them with a big project. Always give back a recommendation as a way of thanking them for their time.

Find jobs that aren’t advertised — aOne of the coolest features of social networks is their continuous status updates. Whenever someone in your circle of contacts gets promoted or takes a new job, you can find out immediately. Remember that when someone assumes a new job, it usually creates an opening in their old one. That’s an opportunity for you. Also, when a person assumes a new role, they often want to hire people they trust to work under them. Be sure to send in a congratulatory note and let them know you’re available.

Research opportunities — Even when I worked for an Internet company hiring people who are supposedly Web-savvy, I was often stunned by how few job candidates showed up with any knowledge of the company or job they were interviewing for. There simply is no excuse for that today. Before you arrive for your interview, be sure you spend at least a half hour learning about the company’s business, its objectives, competition and challenges. Be ready to tell the hiring manager what you can do to help. Believe me, they will remember that.

Research people — People reveal lots of information about themselves in social networks, blogs and online profiles these days. Even if they don’t volunteer that information, you can often learn about them from the groups and organizations that they frequent. Spend some time learning about the person you’ll meet in your interview. Mine some personal nuggets that can help you establish a more personal relationship. Perhaps you share an interest in a particular author, film genre or sport. That’s a basis for discussion outside of the business context. Anything you can do to personalize the engagement will help your chances.

Make yourself memorable — I can’t emphasize this enough. Hiring managers often interview 30 or 40 candidates before making a selection. Names and faces tend to run together, so anything you can do to distinguish yourself will increase your chances of making the cut. Create a video or a screencast demonstrating some special skill you bring to the assignment. If you’re musically inclined, send an audio clip of yourself singing a song of introduction. Write a personalized letter describing three ways you can address a challenge the company faces. Show that you’ve invested some time and brain power to apply for the job.

Next week, we’ll look at how the Web can help you nail down the position and how to prepare for future job hunts. We’ll also talk about how you sometimes need to abandon the keyboard to cement those personal connections.

A New Business Model: Why Some Big Companies Will No Longer Have Big Workforces

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

In the fall of 1994, Fortune magazine published a cover story entitled “The End Of The Job.” More than a dozen years later, that premonition is coming true.

New communications and collaboration technologies are enabling businesses to completely rethink the way they are structured. Increasingly, they will decentralize and outsource that which is not strategic. This will be a difficult transition, but in the end will yield a much more efficient and competitive business model.

Consider eBay. More than 150,000 people now make their living primarily from selling products and services using the eBay commerce engine and more than $60 billion will change hands over eBay this year.  If all the people who depend on eBay for their livelihood worked for the company, eBay would be the second largest retailer in the world.  Yet the company employees less than 13,000 people .

In San Francisco, is striking fear into the hearts of newspaper executives everywhere because it has conceived of a classified advertising business that is vastly more efficient than anything we’ve ever seen.  Founded just seven years ago, Craigslist today operates 300 web sites around the globe and is the seventh most popular English language website in the world.  It has a bigger web presence than the 133,000-employee Walt Disney Company and has been estimated to be worth more than $1 billion.  It has a total operating staff of 23 people.

Companies like these are creating a new generation of internet-driven business in which the company is a facilitator of commerce rather than a storekeeper. These innovators have figured out how to use the global network to connect people who would have otherwise never found each other.  In doing so, they are upending the proprietary and vertically integrated businesses that came before them.

These models will increasingly be applied to other industries. Already, many companies have relocated or outsourced their customer support operations offshore. The service rep you reach on the phone may be physically located 10,000 miles away, but it makes no difference because the network doesn’t care.

Customer service is just the first step. As the trends forecast in the 1994 Fortune article continue to play out, American businesses will increasingly be constructed on a base of partnerships, contracts and loose affiliations. We will move toward an army of sole proprietors.

In some ways, this is a back-to-the-future scenario.  Before the Industrial Revolution, very few people had jobs.  Most worked for themselves, plying their trade to anyone who needed them.

With factories came assembly lines and the need to keep the machines running. The job was born. But America has very few factories anymore and machines do much of what humans used to do. People work at all hours in all time zones. There’s no need to keep people busy 40 hours a week any more unless there’s work for them to do. In general, people are more productive when they’re looking out for their own interests then when they are looking out for their employer.

A full-time work force has its benefits and there will always be the need for payrolls. I expect, though, that businesses will involve in the future toward an increasingly decentralized model enabled by technology. Many people will serve multiple masters, bound to their clients by sophisticated communications networks. Businesses will learn to become more efficient by planning their resource needs around networks of contractors and partners in all parts of the globe. It will be a painful transition, but it will also lead to a better style of doing business.

The job as we know it may not end, but it will evolve into something very different from what we now know.

How do you see business evolving? Post your comments here.