Whether you’re still trying to figure out what you want to with your life, actively applying to jobs, or just trying to be ready for the next stage of your career, you’ve probably heard this advice before: “Go talk to as many people as you can.”
In fact, I give the advice to reach out to people for a quick informational interview almost on a daily basis. Connecting with professionals in your target industry not only gives you the opportunity to learn from their experiences, it could also get you an “in” at a company you’re interested in. With nothing to lose, the only question left is, “How?”
Assuming you follow Erin Greenawald’s excellent advice on how to ask to pick someone’s brain without being annoying, your next step is to think about the networking call in three stages: before, during, and after. Since you’ll only have between 15 to 20 minutes for these quick chats, you want to make sure you’re being efficient with your time. Here’s your go-to guide.
1. Do Your Homework
With less than 20 minutes to make an impression and get your questions answered, you’re going to need to do some research. You don’t want to waste your contact’s (or your own) time by asking questions that can be easily answered with a quick glance at a company website or someone’s LinkedIn profile. And you do want to impress your contact by knowing a bit more than expected about his or her company or career path.
So, before your call, do some digging (Google works just fine) to learn as much as you can about your contact and the company or industry, and be prepared to preface your questions with some of your newfound knowledge.
2. Prep Your Pitch
At some point during the conversation, you’re bound to have to introduce yourself. Save time by preparing your elevator pitch beforehand (and practicing it out loud to nix every “um” and “like.”) You’ll want to tailor your pitch slightly to why you’re interested in receiving advice from each contact you reach out to, so be thinking about what you’re hoping to get from each person, and end on that note.
3. Get to the Point
When the time comes to actually make the call, you want to get right to the point. Ask questions that get at what you’re most interested in learning, while also showing off what you already know. Think: “I recently read that the expectation for nontechnical hires to have some technical expertise is growing for young startups. Could you tell me more about what your experience has been?”
You should also have all of your questions prepared prior to the call. (Here are a few to get you started.) You don’t necessarily have to follow them exactly, but they’ll serve as a way to guide your conversation and keep it on track. (Note: Make sure your questions are geared toward seeking advice—it’s in poor taste to try and get your resume forwarded in this type of call. If your contact offers, then definitely take advantage of it, but that’s not for you to initiate.)
4. Watch the Clock
Like this paragraph, you need to keep the conversation short and to the point. Pay attention to the clock and be mindful of the time. If you said 15 minutes, stick to 15 minutes.
5. Follow Up
Thank you notes are always a good idea. Immediately after your call, jot a quick one up thanking your contact for his or her advice. A good way to conclude it is to mention that the conversation has sparked or furthered your interest in the field, company, whatever—and to request a couple more people he or she would recommend you speaking with. No need to do this again if you’ve already asked during your conversation, but in case you had to wrap up quickly or you wanted to give your contact more time to think, a follow-up note is also a good place to tap into his or her network.
6. Stay in Touch
The last—and often neglected—step is staying in touch. (Seriously though, who doesn’t have trouble keeping in touch?) Once you’ve had your quick chat with your contact, keep him or her in the loop about your job search or career exploration. And definitely send an update if you do end up making a big move. People always love to know when they’ve been helpful! Plus, you never know when you’ll need to call on this person again, and you don’t want the connection to get cold.
Talking to other professionals for a quick 15 to 20 minutes is a great idea no matter what’s going on in your own career. To make sure you’re making the most of it (and also not wasting your contacts’ time), put in the effort to prepare well before you ring anyone up.
Photo of phones courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author