Are you curious about why some people succeed and others do not? If you had the opportunity, who would you like to interview about their success? What would you ask? Identifying folks you would like to meet and crafting questions for a conversation is the foundation for a lifetime of networking.
Start by making a list of who you want to meet. Since we are talking about careers, let’s focus on professional connections. Once you have your list, google these folks for background, then email or call to schedule an appointment. Anticipate rejection, but don’t give up. Request a minimal length of time (15 – 20 minutes), offer a wide range of dates (next 3 weeks) and be charming and humble (even if arrogance if viewed as an asset in the industry).
Brian Grazer calls his approach to networking ‘curiosity conversations’. He found, early in his career:
“First, people – even famous and powerful people – are happy to talk, especially about themselves and their work; and second, it helps to have even a small pretext to talk to them.”
“I developed a brief introduction for the secretaries and assistants who answered the phone: “Hi, my name is Brian Grazer. I work for Warner Bros. Business Affairs. This is not associated with studio business, and I do not want a job., but I would like to meet Mr. So-and-so for five minutes to talk to him…” And I always offered a specific reason I wanted to talk to everyone.
My message was clear: I worked at a real place, I only wanted five minutes on the schedule, I did not want a job. And I was polite.”
Minimize rejection by having your script ready with your specific reason for the meeting request.
Once you have your meeting, develop a set of questions. Keep it short and to the point. What is it that you want to know about this individual that will help guide you in your career decision? Here are a few suggestions:
Why do you think you have been successful in this field?
What experiences served as building blocks to your success?
Did you experience failure? How did you recover and move forward?
How do you balance work and family? Have there been tradeoffs?
What do you look for when selecting a new employee?
What does it take to be a success in this field?
Try to meet with folks at their workplace. It is one thing to hear people talk about their work, it is another to experience the work environment and observe them in it. Remember, you are trying to absorb as much information as you can in a short time to help you in your career decision. Think Dian Fossey among the gorillas of Rwanda. Observe the culture, the behaviors and the office decor.
How many people should you meet? It’s not about quantity. It may be that your first contact answers your questions and you are on a track to follow your dream. Or, your first information interview only leads to more questions. Before you leave, ask for an additional contact; someone who may be able to answer these additional questions.
Networking is about building relationships. The quality of the effort depends on your ability to listen and act on the information you receive. It’s a practice, not a 911 call when your job is threatened.
Adapt your style for lifelong learning and networking to incorporate elements of Brian Grazer’s ‘curiosity conversations’:
“For thirty-five years, I’ve been tracking down people about whom I was curious and asking if I could sit down with them for an hour. I’ve had as few as a dozen curiosity conversations in a year, but sometimes I’ve done them as often as once a week. My goal was always at least one every two weeks.”