Often I get asked the question:
"What do you do regarding networking when you're working and you're not looking for a job?"
To be more specific, a client who just started a new gig (yeah!), sent me the following e-mail:
"I’ve been neglecting my own network since I’ve started this new gig. It’s something that I told myself I’d never do, but I’ve put off going to meet ups, have not reached out to friends, and have missed golden opportunities to network. Reading your emails, you have provided me with that little kick in the pants I need to stop procrastinating and just bloody do it!
Here is where I struggle and could use your help. Once I’ve reached out, what do we talk about? I may have not spoken with this person in a while… we may not have had that tight of a connection… so here I am calling them outta the blue… what do I talk about? I certainly don’t want the conversation to be about me… and I’m not a big fan of the small talk. So what’s meaningful? Also, how long is appropriate for this conversation to last? Finally, does reaching out include multiple communication methods? i.e. email, Facebook, LinkedIn, phone call… etc?"
Many people who are newly employed and are shifting focus from the job search to the new job ask me some version of this basic question.
There's a lot here though to unpack, so let's go through this email piece by piece and address each part separately:
"Once I’ve reached out, what do we talk about? I may have not spoken with this person in a while… we may not have had that tight of a connection… so here I am calling them outta the blue… what do I talk about?"
I would start off either live or in a voice mail with something like this:
"Hello Steve, Lisa Rangel here. It has certainly been a while since we last seen each other at X (or worked together at Y). I was going through my address book/LinkedIn Connections/Facebook list, and your name caught my attention. I was thinking, "We haven't chatted in a long time I should call him!" so here I am. I would love to reconnect, see what you are up to and catch up." <Leave your contact info>
"I certainly don’t want the conversation to be about me, and I’m not a big fan of the small talk. So what’s meaningful?"
Meaningful is relative. Start the conversation with genuine curiosity. You can reference Debra Fine's book The Art of Small Talk, to help with conversation starters. Despite 'small talk' being in the title, I found it to be extremely helpful!!
If it's been a while, here are some places to start.
- What's happened since you've last talked?
- What interesting changes have occurred?
- Reference something from their LinkedIn profile, Facebook page or website and ask for them to elaborate and tell you about it?
- Do they keep in touch with other mutual contacts you have?
- What projects are they working on and what resources are they seeking? You may able to refer them a resource to help.
"Also, how long is appropriate for this conversation to last?"
Let the conversation naturally take its course. I have had great conversations that have lasted only 15 minutes - while others might take an hour. Sometimes, it lasts as long as it takes to meet over a cup of coffee. If you go over the scheduled amount of time, what a great reason to get together and chat again!
"Finally, does reaching out include multiple communication methods? i.e. email, Facebook, LinkedIn, phone call… etc?"
It can be any of them. Starting on Facebook or LinkedIn and taking the conversation offline is great!
You can also consider meeting someone you know at a networking event and kill two proverbial birds with one stone. Each of you can catch up while meeting new people.
Can you commit to networking while working even though you might not be looking for a job? Let me know what you think.
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