Despite all the on-line chatter about the importance of LinkedIn and social media for job seekers, face to face contact remains the most effective job search activity. If an employer knows a candidate, or they have been referred by someone they know, the likelihood of that candidate being hired is much higher. A recent New York Times article stated that referrals are important both for being called for interviews as well as in making the ultimate hiring decision, suggesting that “Referred candidates are twice as likely to land an interview as other applicants (…) For those who make it to the interview stage, the referred candidates had a 40 percent better chance of being hired than other applicants.”
WHY Network in Person
Having hundreds of LinkedIn contacts is just the first step in this process. It isn’t effective to simply inbox one of those contacts (whom you probably have never met in person) and ask for a referral. Most people will not refer a person who they do not know, even if they are connected on a network such as LinkedIn. Referrals occur when the job seeker is known, liked and respected, and when the referring person feels confident that their reputation will not be negatively impacted by the referral.
The challenge for job searchers, then, is to establish a personal connection with those people who are well positioned to refer them. The most effective way to establish such a connection, is to meet in person, leave a positive impression and continue to work on maintaining the relationship on an ongoing basis.
HOW to Network in Person
Ultimately, the only way a job seeker can begin to establish a personal connection is to meet face-to-face, even if it is only briefly. It does not need to be a lengthy meeting, and should be regarded as the first step in a long-term process of forging a meaningful connection. The first meeting is simply an opportunity to gather information and develop rapport, with no pressure for a job.
1. Identify your target. Remember that an effective referral does not have to come from someone in the Human Resources Department. Often, the best referrals come from the person who does the job you would like to do (i.e. a potential colleague) or a manager. LinkedIn’s company pages, or the contact lists of your contacts maybe can be useful to identify your target person. If you don’t have any connection and cannot get an introduction, try joining those LinkedIn groups whose members may be worth meeting.
2. Connect on LinkedIn, if possible. Try to connect via LinkedIn with your target person. Make sure to send personalised note with your invitation to connect, and thank them, once they agree. Work on establishing rapport, through commenting on their updates once in a while (not too often).
3. Plan your meeting. Think through what you want to discuss. You might want to look through their profile and think about questions regarding their job, company, education or career. Think through how you will introduce yourself and your career path. Prepare a script of your self introduction.
4. Set up the information interview — by Telephone, Inbox or Email:
- Introduce yourself briefly.
- State the purpose of the phone call (or email) – i.e. you are currently researching careers and would like to set a date for a short meeting.
- Explain your reasons for wanting to meet: to gain information about the person’s occupation and benefit from their insights and advice. State clearly that you do not expect them to have a job for you or to know of any job openings, rather you want to be in a more informed position before you pursue a career direction.
- Ask for 15-20 minutes of their time within the next week for the interview.
- Set a date, time and location of the meeting. (Should the person decline to meet with you, check if he/she has time for some questions on the phone either now or at a later date and ask for additional names you could contact).
5. Conduct the Meeting
- Arrive ahead of time, dressed neatly (although it does not need to be quite as formal as an interview).
- Bring a folder containing a list of questions and information you have already gathered.
- Have your business card available (if you have one), as well as a copy of your resume. DON’T offer your resume — you may want to ask for feedback about it, if appropriate, as well as provide it IF they request a copy.
- Express appreciation for their time and remind them that 15-20 minutes is all you expect.
- Re-state the purpose of the meeting – information, advice, no expectation of a job.
- Introduce yourself: describe your background, experience, skills, interests, objective.
- Bring the person up to date on your research so far – concisely so that new information will be added.
- Ask three or four essential questions that you have prepared and take notes.
- Ask for suggestions and other areas to be explored.
- Ask for referrals to other persons in specific occupations in the other areas suggested; ask about their background, and request permission to use the referring person’s name when calling.
- Thank them and express your appreciation for their time.
6. Follow up
Send a thank you letter as soon as possible. In the letter, refer to a point of interest from your discussion. Inform them of your next steps.
In the long term, keep in touch with those with whom you connected. Send a holiday greeting card, comment on LinkedIn and update them about your progress.
Developing a life-long practice of networking is useful for all those involved. Successful networkers know that in addition to the rewarding feeling of making a positive impact on others’ careers, the time and effort spent on helping another person will surely benefit them in the future, in return.