Whether you’re looking for a job or to advance in your career, never underestimate the power of networking. Research shows that 80% of jobs/promotions are filled via networking efforts, so if your networking meetings aren’t producing the results you want, read on for some key tips.

One of my clients looking for a new job has been doing a lot of networking. Most of it has gone really well: he’s making some new contacts, connecting well and getting referrals. One meeting though was a disappointment, so in our most recent coaching session, we analysed what went wrong and devised a “do different” strategy for future networking opportunities.

Here are the mistakes he made:

  1. The client failed to prepare adequately for the meeting because he didn’t think the contact was going to be all that helpful/influential. As a result, he asked questions that he could have found answers to with minimal Internet research and the contact looked annoyed.
  2. He failed to prepare or set an agenda, so the meeting rambled, leaving both parties wondering why they had just spent 30 minutes together.
  3. He ditched his elevator speech, and ended up talking about things that were “off-topic” with no way to segue into his questions.
  4. He failed to “decompress” the meeting by stating that while he was looking for a job, he didn’t expect the contact to have or know of a specific job. As a result, at the end of the meeting, the contact said he wasn’t hiring but wished him luck.
  5. He wasn’t able to connect the dots on why this sector would be a good fit, so the contact focused on how hard it is to switch industries.
  6. The client left the meeting feeling depressed, and decided to just forget about it and move on.

  7. He determined to cross that contact off his list, since he had clearly “blown” the meeting.

Here are the tips and techniques that we developed which can also help you get the most out of your networking meetings:

  1. Treat Every Contact Like Gold. Never assume that a given contact isn’t “important” enough for thorough preparation. Every person who has agreed to meet/speak with you deserves both gratitude and respect. This means researching contacts ahead of time, clarifying your purpose for the meeting and having specific questions. You never know who may turn out to be extremely valuable as a resource, so prepare for each networking meeting as if it were a job interview.
  2. Set the Agenda. Keep in mind your dual goal of leaving a positive impression and getting new ideas, advice and information. Remember– you called this meeting, so it is up to you to set and communicate your agenda (and keep the meeting/call on track).
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice.  Having a great elevator pitch is a first step, but make sure you can deliver it every time. Work with your coach to make sure your key messages are coming across, then test your self-perceptions by leaving yourself a voicemail message and playing it back. You may not like what you hear, but better you–who can correct it– than your contacts!

  4. Put Your Contact at Ease. Say upfront that while you are looking for a new job, you have no expectation that your contact has a job for you. That puts contacts at ease and allows them to be fully available to help you. That phrasing also plants the seed of possibility (“Hmmm, maybe I do have or know of a job…”)
  5. Be Crystal Clear. Explain clearly what you are exploring/looking for and why you think it may be a good fit/next step in your career trajectory. Ask specific, relevant questions that will increase your knowledge and understanding while demonstrating that you have already done your homework. Make sure to ask for referrals.
  6. Conduct a Post-Mortem. Review each meeting fearlessly, assessing what went well (behaviour to reinforce) and what went less well (behaviour to revise). Get help from your coach on both as needed so even if the meeting was a disaster, you can still “fail forward.”
  7. Stay in touch. Use your follow-up note to address unasked/unanswered questions as well as thank your contact for their time and information. Ask for permission to update them on your progress and keep the conversation going. Remember– networking is about relationships, not transactions.

Remember that there’s no such thing as a “bad” networking meeting. You either have a great meeting or a great learning experience. Either way, absorb the lessons learned and keep moving!