By Miriam Salpeter
When you are looking for a job, there are few things more important than preparing what to say, no matter what situation you face. When you meet and speak with potential networking contacts, recruiters, and employers, consider everything that comes out of your mouth to be part of one, big interview. Even casual conversations are subject to evaluation in this competitive market.
How can you succeed, when everything you say could be critiqued? Prepare in advance to be equipped to engage with any potential contact, and so you will make the most of every interaction.
Plan your pitch. There is no way around this: you must be able to introduce yourself succinctly. Maybe you’ve learned about the “two-minute elevator pitch”? Unlearn it. Most people will not focus on you for two minutes when you first meet—you need to give them reasons to decide you are worth their time first.
Use this template when you create a short (30-second) introduction:
I work with [target audience] to [what problem you solve]. This is how [your impact/results].
When you can explain what you do—what problem you solve—and make it relevant to the listener, you are golden.
- What is your goal? What do you want to do? (Consider your audience’s needs.)
- What impact do you have? What results do you create? How do you help your organization to be more successful?
- What problems do you solve? What gets done because of you?
- How do you create positive results?
An example, from 100 Conversations for Career Success:
As an attorney with experience investigating fraud, waste, and abuse in government programs [target audience], I examine fund applications, contracts, bidding documents, and invoices to make sure my department doesn’t waste any resources [problem I solve]. As a result of my efforts, we saved over $1.5 million in the last year [impact/results].
How to tell people you’re looking for a job. This is trickier than you think, because you sometimes only have once chance to convince someone he or she can help you. Don’t just say, “I’m looking for a new job, do you think you could help?” Instead, be very targeted and specific with your inquiry. Include the types of companies where you’d like to work, where you’d like to be, and the level of person you need to meet. Finally, make sure the person knows you don’t expect an interview as a result of his or her help. For example,
I know you’ve heard my company just had its final round of layoffs, so I’m on the job market. I’m hoping you may know someone at X, Y, or Z organization in an upper-management position who would be willing to have an informational meeting. I’d love to sit down and meet some folks to learn more in-depth information about these companies than what I can find online.
When you make it clear that you don’t expect a job at the other end of a meeting and you specify exactly the type of person you’d like your friend to introduce to you, it makes it so much easier for a networking contact to help than if you’d made a blanket request, “Can you help?”
How to keep in touch. Have you ever thought about planning ahead to extend the life of your networking contacts? We all know the scenario: you meet someone you’d like to know better, promise each other you’ll keep in touch, but nothing ever comes of it. Consider those meetings lost opportunities.
If you have some goals in mind when you meet, it makes it easier to extend the conversation beyond the first encounter. When you think ahead, you’ll be able to make the most of every meeting.
What’s the trick? Find out something personal about everyone when you meet. What is her favorite sports team? Vacation spot? Restaurant? Does he have children? Enjoy films? Plant the biggest garden in the community? When you steer the conversation away from work and to the things people like to discuss, you’ll learn what you need to have a follow-up “hook.”
Say a great contact you recently met is planning a long-time dream trip to Paris in the spring. What better way to reconnect and ask for that in-person meeting she promised than by sending along an article you saw in the New York Times about great new museums in Paris?
Dear Fran: I saw this article and I thought it was perfect for you! I hope it gives you some ideas for your upcoming trip. Also, I’d love to see about scheduling that coffee we discussed at the Spring Falls networking meeting earlier in the month. Are you free anytime in the next few weeks? Tuesdays and Thursdays are best for me, but I can be flexible if necessary.
It all comes down to planning and preparation. Use all the resources available to you to prepare for you meetings: find out who will attend networking events in advance and look those people up on LinkedIn. (Use LinkedIn’s Events application to find out who is coming, or peruse e-vites to see what you can learn about the guest list. Search online for anyone who interests you and decide what you want to say to them. When you are prepared, all job search communication is easier.