By Mark Tudi |

No matter where you are in your career you will always need to be good at networking. That means being skilled at informational interviewing. Knowing the right people is important, but how they know you and what you know about them are even more important. If you don’t know exactly what people do, then you don’t know how they can help you. A good networker makes himself known by learning about others. Being known in this way creates long-term value for you.

Don’t Be a Shark

At some point in our working lives, we have all had the unique opportunity to meet the networking shark. The Shark roams meetings, trade shows or parties indiscriminately, handing out and collecting as many business cards as possible. The Shark will tell you how wonderfully interesting they are, while feigning interest in who you are and what you do. The Shark has the clichéd air of a used-car salesman; always seeming to be working an angle and trying to get something from you while displaying their pearly whites and acting as if you are best pals. At the end of the day, the Shark will have a pile of business cards and assume that they have made many useful contacts. This is not so.

People do not respond well to self-talkers. They are equally put off when a Shark calls them to ask for something, be it a job, tickets, or a sale. Do not be a Shark. Do not call people only when you need something. The secret to self-marketing lies in finding the right contacts and asking them the right questions. The more you can get other people to talk about themselves and what they’re doing, the more interesting they will feel you are.

Prepare to Meet All the Right People

The people with the most useful information are usually at the top of an organization or department. Whenever possible, start at the top. Determine a list of key people that you feel could be most helpful, and request a meeting. Key people are usually busy people, but they also have to eat breakfast and lunch, just like you. Offer to buy a meal and explain that you would simply like to find out more about what they do and how their position, department or company operates.

When you meet with an important contact, you are simply exploring, not asking for a job. Do not blow the opportunity by being unprepared. Bring a list of specific questions that are geared toward getting this person to talk about himself. Also prepare and rehearse your own 30-second resume. Being brief and precise about who you are, what you can do and where you want to be will keep the conversation focused on the other person. You are there to gather information, not to be a self-talker. When you leave this meeting, the key person should feel good about having met you because you were willing to listen. You will have stroked their ego by being interested in them instead of trying to get them interested in you. Networking Jujitsu at its finest. Follow up with a timely and relevant note, making sure to reference some information that you learned about this person, and you will have made an important contact with one of the “right” people.

The Thirty-Second Resume

Everyone should prepare and rehearse a 30-second resume. It should be very specific, pinpointing who you are, what you have done in the sports industry, what you can do and where you want to be. If you are not brief and specific with someone, they will not know how to help you, and you may miss an opportunity. Imagine yourself having only a brief elevator ride to make an important contact. Don’t miss your floor!

The Three Arenas of Self-Marketing

1. Your own company

Don’t conceal yourself within your own department. Make yourself known as a team player.

People will support your projects more readily if they know you. This allows you to invent opportunities for yourself more successfully.

If major changes are occurring in your company and you have properly self-marketed yourself, you will recognize opportunities instead of feeling fear.

2. Outside your company, but within your industry

Get to know your competition.

Join your industry’s trade association, and expand your scope of possible contacts.

Attend as many sports conventions, trade shows and seminars as you can. This will give you a broadened perspective on your industry and what opportunities exist within it.

3. Outside your company and outside your industry

Do the necessary research. When considering a career transition, good research will help you understand the industry. It will also help you ask the right questions when you make contacts. The right questions will open more doors.

Volunteer. Offer to help with special events or to conduct a free consultation that shows you understand a company’s needs. Either way, use your expertise to offer something for nothing. Who will turn you down?

How to Make an Important Contact

Of course, they would agree to meet with you… if you could only get through! These tips can help you make contact with a contact.

• Know the Gatekeeper.

Fighting with a receptionist who is paid to screen calls will not get you anywhere. If you must deal with this “first line of defense” between you and a potentially valuable contact, create a positive relationship. Getting to know this person through a mini informational interview may be the best way to getting a meeting with their superior.

• Call Early or Late.

Calling at hours when 9 to 5 employees are not present creates the possibility that your potential contact will pick up the phone themselves.

• Try to Find a Direct Line to Your Potential Contact.

• Communicate in writing. Be specific and brief, and suggest a follow-up date.

Informational Interviewing “Key People – Key Information”

Here are 21 questions you could ask an important contact. You don’t have to ask all of them. Sometimes asking just one question will open the flood gates and will dictate the agenda. Other times asking several questions from a prepared list will yield the most useful information.

• Tell me briefly about your company?

• What segment of our industry does your company serve?

• How many employees are there in your company? Do you foresee future growth?

• What do you like and dislike about the company you’re in?

• What responsibilities do you have?

• What’s a typical work day like for someone in your position?

• What do you like best about your job?

• What skills are necessary for someone entering your field?

• Who does the hiring in your company? Is it handled by an individual or a human resources department?

• What are your organizations greatest needs at this time?

• Is there a certain season when companies like yours do the majority of their hiring?

• What does your company look for in its employees?

• What resume or cover letter information in most important?

• What advice would you give to someone who is currently working in another industry, but is interested in moving into your field?

• What is the best way to get to know others in your field?

• Are there trade or specialty seminars you know of that interested people could attend?

• Do you know the salary range for: an entry level position, middle management position, executive position?

• Do you know of other people in the industry who may be helpful for me to talk with?

• Would you be willing to call them to ask if they’d be willing to talk with me?

Comments are closed.