What to ask

The direct question might not be the right one to ask.

You’ve arranged a meeting, or telephone call, with a contact, new to yourself, so what do you ask?

The question, “Do you have any job vacancies?”, could result in the shortest meeting ever with a plain straightforward “No”. End of meeting.

What you talk about really depends on why you’re there.  Are you gathering information or are you selling an idea?

Most network meetings will be of the information gathering kind. You’ll be asking questions based on how you think this contact will be able to help you.

Are you, perhaps, looking for advice about what should, or should not, be shown on your CV? If you’re looking to move into a new industry, or new line of work, your contact could help you by telling you what skills and qualifications are looked at as being important to them. Things that you have done in the past but haven’t highlighted on the CV.

They could also point out areas which you have covered in detail which are either expected, or have no bearing, in their industry. These things could be omitted or downplayed to leave room for more important subjects.

They could let you know what training you will get while working and what training it is expected you will have been given by previous employers or have invested in yourself.

Any nuggets of information you can pick up about how things are done in a different way to the way you have done things in the past will be valuable to you. It could be you will have to change the way you think about working in this industry. You may decide that would be just too much of an effort. Or you might decide you could bring fresh thinking, new ways to overcome old problems, better ways to do things.

Learn to be a good listener at meetings of this type, go in with an open mind, be a sponge, soak up everything you can. Make notes and, after the meeting, think over how you could use the information you’ve just picked up.

Although you’re not expecting this interview to lead to a job, secretly, what you’re hoping for, of course, is, for your contact to reveal that there might just be an opening within his company coming up and that you could be considered for the post. There is a slim chance of this happening, but only slim.

There probably won’t be an immediate vacancy but it’s likely that your contact will want to think over what you’ve been saying to him, possibly have a discussion with colleagues and get back to you at a later date.

All is not lost. Say, “Thank you for your information which, I’m sure, has given me a better insight into your industry. Could you help me? If you were in my boots at this precise moment, who would you be wanting to talk to next?”. Your contact knows other people and will probably come up with some names and addresses for you. Thank him and ask him if you can use his name when getting in touch with these people.

Keep yourself in his mind by maintaining contact, a short letter or email telling him how useful the people you were put in touch with by him will go down well.

The “selling the idea” meeting comes as a result of a series of information meetings. You have gathered the information, researched the company or industry and now you know how you can help them.

You will already have put together these ideas in a sales document of some sort and placed it in front of the most responsible person you can find.

He would not be talking to you now if he did not think there was something in it for him. Now you’re showing the proof by demonstrating from your experience and achievements that you can do what you say.

He might want to take some time to think about your presentation and consult with his colleagues. Ask him if you could talk to them, as a group if needed, to discuss the options.

If all else fails, your backup question is, “Do you know anyone else who might have an interest in what we’ve just discussed?”. Don’t forget to ask if it would be in order to use their name as an introduction. 

The more contacts you can make, the better off you will be.

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