Thursday, March 5, 2009

Talking With Strangers

Networking is a euphemism for talking with strangers. Even if you work in a field where cold calls are the norm, like I do, it's still hard. But like most tasks that are uncomfortable, this one yields high rewards. Your best opportunity to talk with strangers (TWS) during a job search is the informational interview. Of these, you should be prepared to take advantage of passive leads (friend: "I know someone you should meet...") and proactive leads (you research and "make" connections.)

TWS Passive Leads
The easiest way to start TWS is offers from friends, family, and former colleagues. The strangers they'll introduce you to are more akin to distant relatives than strangers. First things first, research makes TWS much easier.
  • Play 20 questions w/ your friend (know how they know each other)
  • Read the company website (bare minimum: "About" page and "Careers" page)
  • Google/news search the company the morning of the interview (in case of major news)
  • Google search name of contact for context only (don't ever reveal to a contact that you've done this or mention personal information you might have found online)
It's okay if your stranger doesn't have a job opening for you. It's okay if you're not interested in working for his/her company. One of my all time favorite informational interviews was at a company that challenged my beliefs.

Think of this stranger as a gatekeeper to an unknown world. Your assignment during the interview is to find out what your stranger's world looks like (who lives there, what's the work like, how's the pay scale, what are the local customs?) Does this world excite you? Do you want to live in it? If the answer is "yes" then your next assignment is to convert stranger to friend.

Use clues garnered from the first part of your interview to translate your skills & experience into your stranger's world. Discuss how you could fit the picture. Ideally, this will lead to the words "We need someone like you to... " or, "I know someone who..."

TWS Proactive Lead
Once you've mastered passive leads, try a cold call or two. This involves some soul searching though, so start by making these lists (see my posting Informational Interviews & Dream Jobs for additional background):

1) What are your dream jobs?
2) What issues do you care about?
3) What organizations and/or people have the dream jobs you described in question 1 and/or work with the issues you described in question 2?
4) What is your dream salary?

Next, go online and research contact information for the people who have your dream jobs (ask friends & relatives if they have contacts in this line of work). The final step: pick up the phone and call!

You'll have to be persistent. You may have to call multiple times. But it will be worth it if you get some time on the phone, or even better, face time (always ask for face time!).

When my husband was in college he wrote a book for his senior thesis. The #1 person he wanted to interview for the book was Alan Ball (writer/producer of American Beauty and, later, Six Feet Under). My husband called Ball's assistant diligently for months before he finally landed the interview. Was it worth it? Hell yeah.

Put simply, you have absolutely nothing to loose and everything to gain. When you set your goals high, you might just achieve more than you ever thought imaginable.

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