Long-time career transitions expert Taunee Besson, and President and Principal Consultant at Dallas-based Career Dimensions offers guidance today on networking – and how to do it right. Grow your network effectively and strategically with Taunee’s tips. — Maurice Gilbert
Job seekers who, on first contact, seem to be ignorant boors, are often potentially great employees who simply lack collaborative networking techniques. However, with a little forethought and some targeted research, they can turn themselves into candidates almost anyone would be happy to help.
Poor networking methods generally derive from a “me-against-the-world” attitude. Without an understanding of his contact’s perspective, a job seeker seems to be selfish and unconcerned about anyone but himself. Put this myopic individual together with a busy professional working under a lot of stress and feeling stretched to the limit, and you have a recipe for networking disaster. To be a successful networker, you must perceive the process as a two-way street. If you want a favor from a stranger, be prepared to give her a motive for attending to your needs instead of putting the time into her own pressing project. Here are some tips for becoming a nominee for Networker of the Year:
Recognize that people may be willing to give you information for a variety of reasons. They may do it as a favor to a friend or manager whom they respect or admire (or fear). They may enjoy playing the “expert.” They may have an altruistic desire to help you to make a critical life decision. They may expect you have some valuable information or business opportunities for them either now or in the future. They may be looking for good employees and you sound like a worthwhile prospect. They may be in a really good mood when you serendipitously call at just the right moment.
Whatever their motive, you must be prepared to allude to one or more of the above reasons for calling. For instance, if your good friend, Jim Collins, suggested you contact his other good friend Susan in Atlanta, you would say, “Hi. This is Taunee Besson. Jim Collins and I were playing golf last Saturday when your name came up in the conversation. I told Jim I was thinking about moving to Atlanta and he said that, before I talk to anyone else I should call you, because you can tell me all about the city and introduce me to everyone worth knowing. Since I’ve always found Jim’s advice to be right on target, I’m starting my Atlanta research with you. Besides, I promised I would send his regards, ask about your new granddaughter and report back to Jim on our conversation.”
By starting your call with these few carefully selected words, you have alluded to an important friendship between Susan and Jim, told her she is an acknowledged expert on Atlanta, indicated you are also a good buddy of Jim’s who might make an excellent employee or colleague for her or one of her other Atlanta friends, mentioned that you agreed to tell Jim about your conversation and asked about her granddaughter who undoubtedly is the light of her life. How can this woman refuse to talk to you when you’ve given her so many good reasons to believe your impending phone conversation or visit will be both enjoyable and rewarding?
Suppose you have decided to call the VP of Marketing of a fast-growing high tech company in your area. You have never met the guy and you don’t know anyone who can introduce you. How can you interest him in a networking appointment? First you’ll need to find out as much as you can about his company. If it’s publicly owned, get an annual report. Research online to find any articles written about the firm. Talk to other people in your network to ascertain if they know anyone in the company you could visit before you call him. Ask local business reporters or professors about their insights on the company. (You probably think these busy, high-profile professionals won’t take the time to talk to you, but they will.)
Then, when you have plenty of information, plan your phone call. Given everything you know about the firm, what piece of information is of most interest to you? Is it the expansion into Mexico? The company’s marketing ideas? Its recent acquisition of a complimentary business? What piece of information do you think the VP would find most enticing? What are his hot-button issues? Based upon your reading, can you think of any solutions for his current or long-term problems? Have you had any similar experiences that might be useful to him? Can you send him any articles or studies you have seen that would give him food for thought?
After you’ve done some brainstorming, select several key “hooks” you think would intrigue him enough to schedule an appointment with you, then start your call something like this, “Hi. This is Taunee Besson. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research lately on fast-growing high tech companies, and Xyrix’s name keeps emerging as an exceptionally well-managed company with continuing double digit growth through new product introductions, savvy acquisitions and a very successful expansion into Mexico. Having recently returned from establishing my company’s industrial product lines in Chile and Argentina, I would enjoy meeting you at your office or over lunch to trade war stories on doing business in Latin America and discuss your potential interest in expanding into South America in the near future. I have some preliminary ideas about how our two companies might form a mutually beneficial joint venture where the sum would definitely be greater than the parts. What do you think? Shall we get together next week over lunch or at your office?
Granted, the VP doesn’t know you from a hole in the ground, but you’ve certainly captured his attention. He may decide to make an appointment with you as you talk on the phone, or check you out before he commits himself. Either way, if you genuinely have something to offer him, the likelihood of your scheduling a meeting is excellent because your initial conversation emphasized what you can do for him, instead of vice versa.
Once you have secured an appointment, you need to decide what you will say when you get together. Since you initiated the relationship, it is your responsibility to set the agenda. You’ll ensure a continuing mutually productive networking experience if you do your homework and prepare a set of well-researched, intelligent questions. Don’t waste valuable time with queries you can easily answer online. If you are a career changer, ask about your contact’s insights and perceptions of his own career, industry and company, as well as his description of the skills and personality traits of his ideal candidate. Tell him a little about your background and why you are interested in his career. Ask for feedback on whether what he does would be a good match for you. Find out how he would move into his career, if he were you.
If you are changing jobs, concentrate on asking about the company, its culture and philosophy and its plans for the future. Find out from your contact about his career with the organization. Ascertain if, in his opinion, your background would fit into the existing structure or if you could add value by bringing new skills and perspectives to the table. Determine if there are other key people you should be contacting in the organization.
Whether you are investigating the possibility of a position or a contact with a particular company or are trying to get an overview of a career or industry, always consider how your conversation can be beneficial for both parties. By keeping your contact’s best interests at heart, you will create a win-win situation for the two of you and pave the way for other collaborative networkers as well.
After your meeting, always follow up with a thank you note. Sending a note is more than just a polite afterthought. It puts your name on front of your contact again, gives you a forum for saying what you plan to do next and it reminds your new acquaintance that you value her time and insight. Whether your thank you note is the final chapter in a brief networking association or the bridge to a more permanent relationship, it reflects your genuine concern for others and your superior understanding of net-etiquette.
Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979, which works with individual and corporate clients in career change; job search; executive, small business and life coaching; college major selection and talent management.
“One of the smartest minds in the career field,” according to Tony Lee (VP of CareerCast Operations at Adicio and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Vertical Network), Besson began writing for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 80s. Having read several of her columns, Lee asked her to contribute regular articles to the Journal’s National Business Employment Weekly (NBEW) as well. Since then, she has been a triple award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and Senior Columnist for CareerCast.com, as well as WorkingWoman.com and Oxygen.com. At Lee’s request, Besson authored five editions of NBEW’s Premier Guide to Resumes and three of its Premier Guide to Cover Letters. She has also written articles and/or been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money and Yahoo among others.
Taunee has worked on community nonprofit boards and committees for over 30 years including Girls Inc., Women’s Center of Dallas, Girl Scouts and Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Volunteers of America and Mortarboard, among others. She was a member of the Leadership Dallas in 1987 and Leadership America in 2003.
In 1994, the Dallas Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development chose her as its “Professional of the Year”. Her NBEW columns were selected for the “Ten Best Article Award” in 1990, 1994 and 1997. In 1999, Alpha Gamma Delta, a 200,000 member fraternal organization, named her as one of three “Distinguished Citizens” at its biannual international convention.Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.