Career

Networking: Preparing for the First Chat

So, you’ve made the first move and reached out to someone you’re looking to have a professional relationship with. You know exactly why you want to network with them and are excited to have them be part of your professional circle. This individual has even responded and offered to chat with you for 30 minutes in the next couple of weeks – amazing!

Now, it’s time to prepare for your first chat and ensure you set a foundation to grow a professional relationship with this person. Below, I’ve outlined some tips and tricks I’ve learned throughout my career to make the most of those first 30+ minutes you have with this individual.  

Take time to do some research on this person, if you can. This involves understanding the background, values, and passions of the individual you are networking with. Yes, a major reason for building the relationship is to find out all of those things. However, what can you gather from their LinkedIn, website (if they have one), or online bio? What did they share with you when you first met (if applicable)? Write all of it down and highlight the things that stand out to you the most.

Reflect on what building a professional relationship with this person would mean to you. Based on what you know about the individual (from your research), what do you want to learn from them? What do you hope to ask them in the 30+ min that you have with them? Write these questions down because they’ll be the focus of your conversation. Here are some other questions you can use to reflect on as well:

  • What about their career trajectory interests you?
  • What do you know about their current role? What would you like to learn?
  • Do they inspire you? If so, why? 
  • How can their career inform your dreams and aspirations?
  • What 3 things do you want to take away from your conversation?

Determine what your action items will be after the meeting.  I think it’s really important that you leave each meeting with 1-2 action items. It gives you a reason to meet again and it allows for your career growth and development to continue long after your conversation. So, think about 3 things you want to walk away with. Here are some examples of action items I’ve walked away with from some networking meetings:

  • Read XX and share back what you learned, what questions it brought up, and how it influenced the way you view your career
  • Write down 3 career goals you want to achieve in the next year
  • Review your resume and tell me what you’re most proud of and why? If it’s not there, can you add it?

Create an agenda!  Now that you’ve taken time to do your research and reflect on some important questions you can start to put together an agenda. The more details the better! Here’s a sample agenda I would use for a 30min chat:

  • Introductions (Fun Question) – What’s the last book you read that left you inspired? 
  • Career Journey: 
    • In your own words, can you share how you got to be JOB TITLE?
    • Would you consider your current role your “dream job”?
  • Logistics:
    • Meeting Cadence – would it work with your schedule to meet 1x month?
    • Scheduling – what days/times work best for you? Are 30 minutes okay or can we do 1 hour?
    • Notifications – is a 24-hour notice enough time if something changes?  
  • Action Items:

Once your agenda is complete and typed out in a shareable Google doc (any other format works, too) be sure to send it to the other person or attach it to your calendar invite. Ideally, you’ll be sharing an agenda at least 2 days in advance of your meeting so that the person has time to prepare.

During your meeting don’t forget to take notes. Sometimes you get so caught up in conversation that you forget to take notes. Personally, I’m terrible at typing up notes and staying engaged in a conversation, but I find that I can write down notes and still stay focused. I won’t go back and type the notes up in the agenda but will use them to help set up the next meeting’s agenda.  

Send a follow-up email to say thanks and recap your conversation. Once your meeting is over take some time to put together a quick thank you message and summarize what you took from the conversation. It’s okay if you don’t send it immediately after your meeting but aim to send it within the first 48 hours. I often need time to process information, so I’ll draft a message and then go back to it later to add some more thoughts and insights. 

And that’s it! Honestly, the biggest part of your first meeting is to let the other person know why they should continue to invest their time and energy in you. The majority of folks I have networked with have always been eager to stay connected because I give them the space to share their own stories. I come prepared with questions and am sure to really listen to what they say. 

However, not everyone wants to stay connected and that’s okay! Oftentimes it’s not personal and folks just need to set boundaries to give their life balance. If you get turned down, don’t sweat it because you want to invest in a relationship that will reciprocate your time and energy. Consider asking folks who turn you down if they have someone in mind that you can connect with instead or hit LinkedIn again and see who you find – there will always be folks to connect with if you take a look 🙂 

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