There is no shortage of information and advice about how to network for a job. Books and articles on the subject abound and there is substantial free information on the Internet. However, I’d like to focus on the other side of that proverbial table, being a good contact for someone who is networking.

First, allow me to outline what I believe makes for a good networking meeting from the perspective of the candidate. I think there are two fundamental agenda items for the person asking for the meeting. The meeting should start with a brief introductory statement such as ”Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. Bob Smith is the person who connected us and thought you would be a great source of advice and information important for my job search. As I mentioned in my note, he didn’t say you had a job for me or even knew of one. However, he did think you had great insights and perspectives to share”.

Moving to the agenda, the first item relates to telling a concise and compelling story of your career history. It sounds like this: ”I’d like to spend a minute or two telling you about my background so you have a good sense of what I’m capable of and interested in.” The second agenda item relates to the information and advice that person could share with you. It sounds like this: ”Then, I’d like to get your advice, insights and recommendations on people I should be in touch with, opportunities you might be aware of on the marketplace or any other employers you think I should be targeting”.

Despite the simplicity of this approach, the biggest mistake most networkers make is that they fail to manage the meeting itself. The person most likely wants to help but isn’t sure how. Managing the meeting is one of the most important steps the networker can take.

Understanding that many, if not most, people don’t necessarily manage the meeting well, you as the target can actually help them. First, you can review any material sent ahead of time (e.g. resume, networking profile) and even check out their LinkedIn profile and imagine people in your network who may have similar backgrounds and are well connected in the field. You can create a quick list of questions that arise from reviewing their background, questions that would help you better understand their qualifications. You can also ask some generic questions about the parameters of their search which tends to “prime the pump”. Questions like:

  • Will you consider relocation? If so, are there preferred locations?
  • How far would you commute for the job?
  • What companies attract you the most?
  • Have you seen any jobs posted recently that have attracted you, even if they weren’t in your preferred location? If so, what are those jobs and what made them attractive to you?
  • What accomplishments from your recent jobs are you most proud of?
  • What does the next job have to pay for you to be interested? I’m more interested in the floor rather than the ceiling.
  • If I were to recommend you to someone, what would you hope I said about you?

These are just samples to spur your own thinking.

Whatever you hear, try to clarify and summarize it. So, if the person talks about a posted position that attracted them, you might check out your assumption…”so, you are most interested in director-level finance roles at smaller companies, is that it?”. By clarifying and summarizing, you can help that person better describe their needs and interests.

By asking questions and clarifying and summarizing answers, you can help both of you zero in on possible employers to target, other people who might make good contacts, and the types of opportunities that would be a fit.

If you do have other people to suggest for further networking, offer to let the person use your name, provide them with contact information and also indicate why you thought of that person, what information and advice they might be able to provide and how is the best way to contact them (e.g. e-mail, phone call, LinkedIn).

So, as the networking target, it would be great if you didn’t have to work this hard to help but with a little effort, you can be a wonderful, and highly appreciated, resource for the likely anxious person who is looking.