Fourteen steps for conducting effective Network Interviews

You've heard me talk about Network Interviews. What are they?

Simply put, a Network Interview is an interview where there is no job on the table. That may sound useless if you're the one looking for a job but many of these network interviews will lead you to that real interview where you have a real shot at a job.

Here's a statistic that hasn't changed in 30 years:

75% of jobs are obtained through networking

So while other ways of getting a job have changed, posting to career websites like Monster etc, taking over from newspaper ads, for example, you still need to spend 75% of your time networking.

What is networking? Talking with people, face-to-face, over the phone or via e-mail and learning about them as they learn about you. It's making friends. This is easy for some people and harder for others.

How do you do it?

1. Make a list

Start with a list of everyone you know, and I mean everyone. Co-workers, former co-workers, family, friends, neighbors, service providers like your mailman, dentist, doctor, bagel store owner, religious advisor, vendors from work, people in industry groups, former classmates. Check your Facebook friends, those connected with you on LinkedIn. Circle all those you feel comfortable telling that you are looking for another job.

2. Talk with them all

Tell them frankly that you are in the market for another job. Specify what industry you are targeting, which companies you're interested in and ask them if they know anybody at those companies. If they don't, ask if they know anybody else who might know someone in those companies. Your goal to is walk out of the network interview with at least three more names.

3. Expand your network to the next level That part was easy because they were people you know. But your goal is to expand your network. You need to now visit these people and get three names from them. How do you do that?

First of all, ask the person who gave you their names for an introduction. The wording goes along these lines: "Would you mind giving Joe a call and warn him that I'll be calling sometime this week?"

Then, when you call Joe you introduce yourself in this way, "Hi, my name is Bruce Fieggen. I'm a friend of Fred's and he suggested I talk with you." Then pause. This gives Joe a chance to say, "How is Fred?" or "Fred! He owes me $50!" or something to give you a clue on how to proceed.

4. Your 30-second spiel

Next you need to give your 30-second spiel. This is something you need to have practiced many times so you can say it cold. There are many elements to the 30-second spiel.

  • It takes 30 seconds or less. You don't want to bore anyone with a long speech

  • It should put the listener at ease that you are not asking them for a job, just information

  • It should describe you in a way that makes the listener feel comfortable meeting you

  • It should show what information you want to gain from the listener

Here's an example: "I've been managing projects in the Medical Device industry for the last 15 years in R&D, Manufacturing and Quality. I'm interested in switching to the Pharmaceutical industry and would like to talk with you for about 20 minutes about life at Hoffmann La-Roche." I just timed that at 11 seconds.

Now think for a moment about what you would do if a friend of a friend of yours, who you'd been warned would call, gave you that speech. Wouldn't you enjoy breaking your day by twenty minutes to talk about your life at work? Most people would agree with you. I've had tremendous success with this approach, conducting three network interviews a day while laid off.  Try to set up a few of these per day when you are laid off, a few per week when you are still employed but looking.

5. Meet them

Set them up as coffee breaks in the company cafeteria or a nearby Starbucks. Dress up like it's a real interview. Do not go over the 20 minutes you set for the meeting. Even if it's going well, we need to respect the other person's time. The last thing we want is for them to walk back to their office and find that they spent 45 minutes with you and are now scrambling to make their next meeting on time. What you say, when the 20 minutes are close to being up is something along these lines: "Thank you so much for your time and all the great insights. I know you're busy so I'll be on my way now."

6. Go Dutch

Removing all awkwardness from these meetings is essential. You're not asking for a job, they're not offering one. If you pay for the coffee, they'll feel like they owe you something. If they pay, you feel like a beggar. If you're getting coffee from a Starbucks, this is easy, you order first and pay, then step aside as Joe orders. If you are sitting down and being served, specify separate checks up front.

7. Ask them about themselves

Ask about their life at their company. How did they get their job? What do they like and not like about it? What trends are new? Where is the company expanding, contracting? Which departments are good to work for?

8. Get more names

The goal of every network interview is two-fold. Get more names and impress everyone you meet. Eventually someone will know of an opening and has met you and realizes that you would be a great person for that position. He/she puts you in touch with that hiring manager and you're in!

9. Improve your marketing

The second time I used this technique, I had been in the Medical Device Industry for 6 years and was looking to move into Genetic Engineering. But, after talking with about five people who gave me the same answer, I realized that this move would require me to go back to school for a Masters or PhD in the field before trying to get that job. I realized that I needed to change my tactics and decided to stay in the Medical Device field instead. I saved a lot of wasted time.

Having this kind of conversation in a Network Interview setting is pretty easy. After they've told you about them and you've shared about yourself, you can ask them where they would see you fitting in their company, which department, what group of people etc.

10. Give as much as you get

Even though they have a job and you don't, the Network Interview is a two-way street. In the hundreds of Network Interviews I have given and accepted, the flow of information has always been two-fold. They are curious about you, companies you've worked for that they may be thinking about moving to, hobbies, sports, places to live, the list goes on. As soon as you've done a few of these and realized that you've given as much information as you've received, you'll feel better about asking for the next one.

11. Be careful showing off your resume.

Have it handy just in case they ask for it but don't flourish. Remember, this is not a real interview and you don't want your new friend to feel ambushed. But if they ask to see it so you can explain your background better, do so. Then ask how you can change it to improve your chances at a job in their company/industry.

12. Thank them.

Don't forget to thank them for their time, the names they offered and any advice they gave. Send a thank-you note the next day, e-mail is fine.

13. Let them know where you landed

Chances are that only one of the fifty people you networked with knows where you ended up but the rest are curious. When you land that new job, send out a mass e-mail, (bcc so they don't have each other's addresses) thanking them all again and showing the results of their efforts. Offer to meet with them or any of their friends any time.

14. Continue Networking

Conduct Network Interviews with others who are looking for a job. Become known as someone who is connected. Remember about it being a two-way street? Every Network Interview you conduct helps you out as well.