Get smarter about your job search. Visit my YouTube channel.

Networking 201: the Referral Meeting: Gathering Information

In this meeting you are trying to determine whether or not I am a target. To qualify as a target, I must meet three conditions: my company must be one you have a tentative interest in working for, I must be someone you have a tentative interest in working for, and I must have the kind of problem(s) that you like to solve. If I meet those three conditions, I’m a target. If not, not. Obviously, you won’t know whether or not I’m a target until we have met.

Of these three conditions, I believe the one least likely to be met is my having a problem or problems. Does this mean I won’t be a target next Tuesday? Not at all. Problems have an ugly way of sneaking up on us, so you want me to remember you as the solution when I do have the problem.

To set the stage, you have been referred to me by a mutual acquaintance. You contacted me, invoking the third party’s name, told me that our mutual friend thought I could be of some help to you and suggested we meet. You also told me you were not coming to ask me for a job, and we scheduled the meeting.

You have shown up for the meeting,and we have gotten through the introduction (see Networking Part 1). Now it’s on to information gathering.

First we’re going to talk about my industry. Then we’ll talk about my company, then your profile, and finally, my qualifications for one or more jobs. The reason for this progression is my comfort level. It’s easy for me to discuss my industry. It may be a little dicey talking about my company, if you start asking about proprietary issues. If you want to see how quickly the meeting can fall apart, start the process with talking about jobs!

So, beginning with the industry,start asking questions. What are the leading companies in the industry? Which ones are having problems? What’s going on in the industry that’s positive? Is that what this company is experiencing? What kinds of challenges does that create? Is that a problem? How big a problem? What’s going on that’s a threat? Is that what this company is experiencing? How big a problem is that? Where is the industry headed in five years? Is that where you want this company to be?What could keep that from happening? Is that a problem? How big a problem?

Again, all roads lead to problems,because if I don’t have one, I’m not a target!

The same questions apply to discussing my company. But here you must be careful. It will be easy for me to get the idea that you want proprietary information, or that you’re about to ask me for a job. “It looks like I just stepped on your foot,” you will say. “Let me back up a moment. Earlier I said I was not here to ask you for a job. I meant that. If I’m going to put together an effective job search, there’s a lot of information I need to get. The only way I know to get it is to ask questions. When I leave here today, I promise you, I will not have asked you for a job!” That should cause me to relax again.

Next up is your profile (see the post about profiles). Yours will be one of three places: on my desk, on my computer screen, or nowhere. If it is either of the first two, assume I’ve read it. If it is nowhere, you will say, “I had some questions about the profile I sent you, but it appears you haven’t gotten it. I have an extra one with me.Would you like it?”

In fact, you will have two, because if you only have one, and you give it to me, and I start asking questions about it, you’re going to go crazy trying to remember what it says!

Politeness requires that I accept it. If I lay it aside, you will say, “You know, I’d appreciate it if you would take a few minutes and read it. I’ve got some serious questions about it.”

Now I have to read it. There’s going to be a test!

“In reading the profile, is there anything that stands out? Why does that get your attention? How important is it? Should I be emphasizing that more? What else stands out?”

Once all that has been covered, you ask, “Is there anything that you don’t see on the profile, so you throw it away? Why is that important? How can I overcome that?”

There is a potential problem here.You know this document is a profile, not a resume. Do I? No way. To me it’s a resume, and I don’t like it (read the post about the profile and you will understand)!

It is imperative that you stop meat this point, because otherwise I will start “fixing the profile, and you will have lost all control. “This wasn’t meant to be a resume,” you will say. “What I’m trying to do here is show success using the skills that I think are transferable from what I’ve done to what I want to do. I have a resume at home. If you’d like, I’d be happy to send you a copy.”

This should cure me of the need to inflict my extensive resume expertise upon you.

The point here is that you want me to pay close attention to the profile, so that I’ll realize just how great you are. You are also asking for bad news: “What’s missing?” Why are you doing this?

It is my experience that people don’t like bad news. People looking for a job really don’t like bad news! Because of this, most people,consciously or not, avoid bad news to the extent possible. So, it’s only the people who can handle bad news who ask for it. Ironically, those happen to be extremely capable people, so, if you’re asking for the bad news, you must be one of those. You get points for asking for the bad news, so ask!

Next, we want to qualify you for as many jobs as possible.

“Based on what you know about me at this point, what I’ve told you about myself, what you’ve seen on the profile,where would someone with these kinds of skills, this kind of background, fit best in an organization similar to this one?”

What you have just asked is, “Where would I fit in your company,” but you have made it as theoretical as possible.Pay close attention to me, though, because if I’m going to get nervous in this meeting, this is the most likely point. You are walking right up to the edge of asking me for a job!”

“Oh,” I say, “I think you’d be a good administrative manager.” Do you want to be an administrative manager? For the sake of the discussion, let’s say you’re an accountant, so, probably not.

Oh, really? Do you know what an administrative manager does in this company? No, you do not. So your response is, “Fascinating! Why do you say that? Tell me about that job. What kinds of challenges would I face? What kinds of problems would I solve? Take me through a day in the life. How much could I make doing that?”

In the employment interview, you never, ever, ever talk about money. In the referral meeting, you always talk about money! It’s research. It is how you will discover your market value, and the information you get will be a whole lot more accurate than looking up a table online.

“Where else would you see someone with this background fitting?” Keep asking until I run out of jobs, and if I don’t mention what you’re looking for, accounting in this example, you mention it. “What about as an accountant?”

It is in this process that you will find the current highest and best use of your skill set if you don’t yet have a specific objective, or a problem you can solve if you do have a specific objective. Let’s talk for a moment about why I said the “current” best use.

A career is the best use of your skill set today. Given the relentless space of change, it could very well be different tomorrow. A skill set may be used in a great variety of ways. Don not let yourself get locked into something you can’t get out of.

Next, we’ll talk about the third phase of the referral meeting, the close. Stay tuned.