How do I have an effective networking conversation?

In our past two blogs, Why should I network into a job? and How do I start networking into a job?, we laid the foundation for a new approach to searching for a job – conversations over applications. In the last blog, we talked about how to get started networking and how to get that first chat set up. 

Alright, you found an interesting company where you would like to work, reached out to someone at the company asking to chat, and they said “yes”. Now what? What will you talk about? How do you make yourself look super smart on this call so the person you’re networking with will recommend you to the hiring manager? 

How do I prepare for a networking chat?

Preparing for a networking chat is a little bit like preparing for a phone interview, but the goals of a networking chat are slightly different. Your goals are (1) to establish a rapport with the person, get them to like you, to get them on your side, and (2) to learn more about the company, role, culture, hiring manager, team, etc. In some ways, it is like a phone screen early in the interview process, but it is more informal and the stakes are lower (so don’t get nervous!)

Step 1: Research the company and the contact

This step is key because you need to know at least the basics about this company that you’re “super excited about.” Many say “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”, and I agree, but it’s probably best to save the stupid questions for after you get hired 😁  No need to spend more than 20 minutes on this step, but do your due diligence. 

Research the company. Go on Crunchbase, check out what round of funding they’re on and when it was raised or their stock price, check out their technology section, review the recent news section. In fact, head over to Google News and search for the company name and scan the headlines. Trust me. (Once, I didn’t do this step and the company I was talking to was being acquired. Oops, I looked unprepared.) Check out their website, their press releases, the product pages, and the investor page. Take notes!

Check out the person you’re talking to on LinkedIn. Are there any affinities? Are you both experts in the Solidity programming language? Did you both work at the same company at some point? Do you both DJ on the weekends? Anything on their LinkedIn is fair game to chat about, but I wouldn’t recommend going beyond LinkedIn for this conversation. Besides finding affinities, this can also help you zero in on more important conversation topics. Instead of asking questions like “What do you do at Shopify?”, you can ask “I saw that you are a Demand Gen Marketer at Shopify on LinkedIn. How did your messaging change in 2020 to encourage small businesses to set up online stores with Shopify when their brick-and-mortar locations were shut down?” Now you’re on another level.

To reiterate, don’t spend more than 20 minutes on the research. Your time is valuable, and often there are other companies, conversations, or interviews that you have to research and prepare for. Anything beyond 20 minutes, and you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. 

Step 2: Prepare your answers to common questions

There is some overlap here with interview questions, and it’s highly likely that you’ll hear flavors of these questions:

(1) Tell me about yourself.

(2) Why do you want to work here?

Everyone should have an answer to question 1 prepared and ready to go whenever they’re embarking on a job hunt. It is nearly a guarantee that you will be asked this question. And you will often be asked this question during an informal chat as well. Check out this video for how to craft a good answer to this question. You will want to have a general “elevator pitch” ready for all your interviews, but you will want to tweak it slightly to highlight the relevant parts for different companies.

For question 2, you will want to prepare a more targeted answer to the question. The circumstances through which you found this company are unique, and you want to be honest. You love their technology? You know someone who works there who raves about the culture? You’re interested in the industry and saw that they just got a new round of funding and are hiring? Make sure you have a meaningful answer ready before your chat.

What should I talk about during the chat?

You’re prepared. You know all you need to know about the company, about the person you’re chatting with, and you have answers prepared to common questions. How do you start the conversation and have a productive outcome?

Step 1

Be yourself. Open up the chat with some small talk. Bring up the weather, news, ask them questions about themselves, utilize what you learned on their LinkedIn if relevant. Try to get them talking about themselves, and dig deeper when they sound excited about a certain topic.

Step 2

Time to ask some questions to get some intelligence about your contact, the company, the industry, or the role. 

(1) Ask them about interesting trends or opportunities they’ve noticed in the industry. (2) Ask them for thoughts or advice about how to learn more about the role, the subject matter, the company, etc. (3) Ask them for their perspective on the company and the culture. (4) Ask them for resources such as what blogs they read or podcasts they follow and who else to talk to in the industry or the role.

Step 3

Use the final question about resources and next steps to leverage into a question around a referral or another introduction. Depending on how the conversation went, consider asking something like “who would you recommend that I talk to next at your company?”, or if it went really well, “would you be willing to submit a referral for me?” or “would you be willing to introduce me to the hiring manager for this role?”

The hope is that your contact will offer to do one of the above. However, if they do not, don’t be afraid to ask what they are willing to do for you. If they do not want to help, that’s fine. On to the next contact! If they do move you to the next step, whatever that may be, congratulations! You just vastly improved your chances to get an interview at that company. 

Step 4

Make sure to let the contact know that you will follow up in 3 to 4 weeks. If you don’t have their email address yet, ask for it here. Try to establish some concrete action items going forward. Whether it is something promising like an introduction to a hiring manager or just a follow-up chat, try to iron out the next steps at the end of the chat.   

How do I follow-up after the chat?

First of all, send a thank you note, whether via email or some other chat platform. Make sure to include any next steps in the thank you to keep the other person accountable and to simply serve as a reminder of what they promised to do for you.

Scenario 1: Person follows through on their promise

If the person followed through on their promise in the next week or two, great! Maybe they introduced you to someone else, maybe they submitted a referral, or maybe they pointed you to some other resource, so give them an update on how you found the conversation/interview/book/etc. As you hit different milestones in your job search, keep them updated because they proved they are interested in your success.

Scenario 2: You simply could not establish any next steps with the person

Send a follow up email after 10 days to this person. Give them a quick update about where you are in your job search, and ask them again for help with whatever you need, whether that is an introduction/referral/etc. If they cannot help you or are not willing to do what you’re asking for, move on from them. You can send them periodic updates, perhaps once a month, on your job search if you would like to keep that channel open with them.

Scenario 3: Person does not respond or follow through

After the thank you email, if this person simply “ghosts” you and never responds, move them straight into your bucket of monthly job search update emails until you get a job.

Rinse and repeat!

This is the process to follow every time you set up a conversation. You will get more comfortable and more efficient over time. Keep in mind that you may have several target companies or roles open at a time, so you will be going through this process in parallel with several contacts. Never stop reaching out, having networking conversations, and following up. Even if you are on the final interview step (or on two final interview steps), it’s never a guarantee that you will get the job. You want to keep adding new opportunities to your pipeline so you can pick your job search right back up if you don’t get the job. I’ve talked to people who have stopped their job search after a final interview, but when they didn’t get the job, they were two weeks behind.

Make sure to keep track of all the parallel workstreams so no contacts get overlooked and no follow-up emails are neglected. Consider using a tool like Stint to help you stay organized so you don’t miss anything.

Good luck!

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