In theory, for the extroverted folks out there, performing at networking opportunities should be comparable to a fish performing in water. For the introverts, the mere mention of the word “networking” can send shivers down their spine and sweat to their palms. Whether you fall into the former bucket or the latter, it really doesn’t matter, because practice and preparation are always essential inputs for anyone looking to acquire the outputs of networking (rapport, exposure, job leads, industry knowledge, etc.)
You’ve probably heard of Meetup.com, checked out LinkedIn groups, or have heard of a networking event through the grapevine. This article focuses more on a different type of networking: The one-on-one coffee (or lunch, or happy hour beer, etc.)
Being a great communicator doesn’t always equate to being a great networker. Being more reserved doesn’t leave you destined to fail in this part of your career. The common equalizer in the realm of networking comes down to this: preparation. When sitting down for a one-on-one meeting, your preparation will be key to leaving a positive lasting first impression on the person you are meeting.
Success can come in many different forms when it comes to networking. Here are a few examples of the positive inputs that you will need to have a successful outcome:
- Be punctual. Show up a bit early, scope out the most comfortable place available for a conversation, and set up for your conversation.
- Show up prepared. Bring a set list of premeditated questions, something to take notes with (and on), and a great story to answer the “tell me about yourself” question that will lead off the conversation in one form or another.
- Provide context. If you found your coffee attendee via LinkedIn or email, be sure to remind them why you two are connecting, and what you are looking to get from their time spent with you (learning opportunity about them, their company, their industry, their career path, etc)
Unsuccessful meetings come in a lot of different forms as well. Here are a few examples (basically, the inverse of what was listed above…don’t be that person!):
- Show up late. If you are running behind, send them a message ASAP and give them an accurate ETA. Apologize when you get there. Or better yet, just show up on time.
- Show up unprepared. Show up without anything to take notes on, without your computer, without any story to explain the “who you are, what you’ve done, and what you are looking to get into.”
- Provide no context to the conversation. You want to know what a terrible meeting looks like? Don’t prepare, don’t remind the coffee attendee you are meeting why the meeting is even taking place, and wait for the awkward silences in between coffee sips.
Want to avoid having a meeting that resembles that? Don’t worry…I got you!
Below are a few sample questions provided by my awesome Career Services team here at Galvanize. Bookmark this article and grab some of these questions if you are stuck or lost on how you should approach a networking conversation.
Q: Tell me about yourself and your background. How did you get started in your career?
Pro-Tip: If you’ve done your research, you should have a fundamental understanding of what the attendee has done in their past and what the attendee is currently doing now for work. This question is useful for a few different reasons:
- You are setting the stage to hear their story. Your meeting guest will most likely give you an answer and volley the question back to your court. If you are prepared, this is a great opportunity to wow them with the “who you are” portion of the dance, better known as networking.
- This is a great opportunity to build rapport. LISTEN! Try and find mutual interests, mutual educational/work backgrounds, or even mutual locations. This is your chance to start building deeper connections that say more than “we are currently both in the same industry.” If you’ve found a nugget of mutual connection/interest in your preparation research, and your meeting guest doesn’t bring it up in their introduction, feel free to bring it up as well! Don’t come off as a stalker or anything, but don’t hesitate to say: “I noticed that you went to school at _________ University…my cousin attended the same school!” or something that promotes a deeper connections in the relationship.
Q: Could you tell me a bit more about your day-to-day responsibilities at your company (or on your team)?
Pro-Tip: Opening up this box allows you to take notes and places you in a better position for follow up questions. When taking notes during an informal coffee, an in-person interview, and even after you land the job at your dream company, always make sure to make eye contact and let the speaker know that you are listening – only taking a few short notes to break eye contact. You want this to be a conversation, not an interrogation.
Q: What technologies does your team predominantly use to accomplish these tasks?
Pro-Tip: Again, another great opportunity for you to get some more conversation starting points. Take notes on a few technologies that you are familiar with, while also taking notes of the technologies you are more unfamiliar with. Don’t be afraid to ask: “I’m not too familiar with X technology, do you mind explaining how it ties into Y technology?”
Q: What’s the most enjoyable aspect about working at x company, or with x technology? (Inversely, What are some less than ideal aspects of working at x company, or with x technology?)
Pro-Tip: The whole purpose of your networking meeting is to get as much information as possible about the person, the company, and the technologies that they are are using. Your meeting guest may be able to provide you with some great insight on the good, the bad, and the ugly of their company, or industry, or technologies, etc. Really listen to these nuggets of information and make sure to reflect on these answers. “Would I thrive in this environment? Would I want to work with these technologies? Do I even want to work in this industry?”
Q: How should I be spending my time? What meetups/networking events do you find valuable?
Pro-Tip: If your meeting attendee is active in the tech community, their insight will hopefully leave a few breadcrumbs for you to follow up on. Taking advantage of a meetup/networking event referred over to you will look GREAT for a few reasons:
- You can use this as your next “hook” when rekindling the conversation. “Hi, _____. I had the opportunity to attend X meetup that you referred me over to.” Talk a bit more about what you learned there.
- You can use the referral at the meetup as a tool to start new conversations at the meetup. “I met with ______ who works at _______, and they suggested that this would be a great meetup for me to attend because of ________ reason.” The next person you are speaking to may know this person, thus giving you some rapport-by-translation throughout the conversation.
Q: What’s next for you in your career?
Pro-Tip: Great question to learn a bit more about their goals, while also understanding a bit more about potential career paths can transition in the tech community.
Q: Any advice for an aspiring data scientist/web developer? (or, what advice would you have liked to have had if you were in my position in your career?)
Pro-Tip: If anything, your meeting attendee may help frame, or level set, some of your expectations. We all feel like we could be doing more, maybe looking at others who were in our class, or others with similar backgrounds. Remember, everyone’s career trajectory is different. Getting this advice from a few different people will help you understand what you should be doing, what you should be expecting, and provide you with information that you will soon pass on to the next person looking to network with you!
Q: You have been so helpful, is there anyone else you think I should chat with?
Pro-Tip: It shows that you’re looking to learn and network with the best and you appreciate their opinions. Plus, the leads they give you put you one step closer to networking into a job.
Q: Do you know anyone hiring that I should take a look at?
Pro-Tip: Notice how this question isn’t asking your meeting attendee for a job. If you are meeting with someone with the true spirit of networking in mind, flat out asking for a job is a no-go. Asking the question above, however, makes sense in the context that you are open to looking at any opportunity that they are aware of now, while not asking them to put their stamp of approval for you at their current company. Even if your meeting guest isn’t aware of any opportunity right now, you may be surprised by the amount of people who will follow up with you as soon as they hear of an opportunity that could be appropriate for your skill set/desires.
If it’s an informational interview with a current employee before your official interview at their company, I ask:
Q: What are some projects that your team wishes they could get to but can’t find time/bandwidth for?
Pro-Tip: This is great because your meeting guest is going to feed you ‘ammunition’ for when
you go into your formal interview – where you can suggest that will add value to the team by completing projects that they are unable to achieve right now. They will be impressed that you’ve done deep research into their team specifically, and are motivated to complete those looming backlog of tasks.
James Conti’s #1 question (in a formal interview):
Q: What could I do to significantly make an impact in the first 90 days?
Pro-Tip: It’s a great ‘plant-the-seed’ question where it gets the interviewer imagining you already in the position and helps you win allies in the company.
Last, but not least, follow up with a thank you note! If you don’t have their contact information (email is fine)…ask! Once you have that, go back and document the conversation somewhere (this could be on a spreadsheet, a journal, an email draft…whatever is easiest for you) But alway, always, ALWAYS, follow up with a thank you note. You want to make sure that you leave your first interaction with this person with both parties feeling good about their use of time, mentioning in your note: “would you mind if we reconnected sometime down the road to chat a bit more about X?” This leaves the door open for you to continue the conversation. Find articles and news releases about their company, the technologies that they mentioned in your meeting, or even something unrelated to tech but in line with their interests, and send them a quick note. Out of sight, out of mind…don’t waste all of the time you took to prepare and meet by not following up.
Like I mentioned earlier, bookmark this article and feel free to use these questions when heading into an informational interview (or in-person). I hope this helps those working through their network to make the best impression possible when sitting down with someone for a coffee. Suggestions/Comments are always welcome!