Have you been to a coffee shop to see people walking up to complete strangers and asking “are you so-and-so”, then introducing themselves and engaging in an intense conversation? These meetings could be many things—an interview, a sales pitch and a general networking meeting.
Many of my clients have told me that networking is uncomfortable for them. When I ask what their view of networking is, the most common response is going to a meeting with hundreds of people and introducing themselves to complete strangers. While this is one form of networking (one that I am not comfortable with), another, and more common form of networking, is a simple coffee meeting. The investment for all parties is minimal—the cost of a cup of coffee (or other non-alcoholic beverage) and 45 min.—an hour of your time.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from an individual who was referred to me by a trusted colleague. This person wanted to meet to talk about her job search. I could have ignored this email, but I have sent out many of these types of emails and have met many wonderful, professional people. Some have helped in my search for new employment, or now for new business. Others perhaps didn’t have any “leads” to offer; have become great professional resources.
If you are the person reaching out to others there are a few things that you need to do to prepare:
Before sending this type of email, research the person whom you are planning to meet. A simple Google search will help.
In the email, mention the reason for the email and why you want to meet (it’s never because you want this person to find you a job), and how you were referred “Jane Doe from Acme referred me…” “I’ve enjoyed reading your posts on LinkedIn”
Recommend dates, time & locations for a meeting. While these may not work for the person you are hoping to network with, it will provide options to consider. You may get a response like “I’m not available those dates, but I have availability on XXX. Are you available to meet me in my office?”
Prepare your marketing materials—usually, this is a networking plan that includes the type of work your looking for, job titles and target companies. Providing your resume is nice, but not necessary—this person is probably not the person who is going to hire you.
Prepare your message, what are the 3-5 key points you want this person to know about you and what you’re looking for.
Let the person know how they will know you. I often say, “I’ll have a red portfolio/notebook.”
Okay, so you’re prepared now what? Remember, it’s just a cup of coffee.
Start with “small talk” but stay away from controversial topics such as politics and religion. Weather is usually a good start. Then get into the purpose of your meeting, you’ve prepared for this, so it should come easily. Let the conversation go where it goes, find commonalities in work, industry and people and companies. Present your networking plan and talk about it at a high level. End the meeting with a “thank you” even if it resulted with nothing tangible. You may have learned about other industries, other types of work and you just met someone who you didn’t know an hour before who took time out of their day to listen to you.
I met with the the person who sent me the email. She turned out to be very personable and professional. She presented her networking plan, and I was able to provide her connections to two of the companies on her target list. I left the meeting feeling very good that I was able to help someone with their search, and I met someone who is now part of my professional network. In the end she was prepared, professional, and it was a win-win for both of us.