Since The FENG has been built by friends introducing friends, I imagine that as an organization we are probably more sensitive to networking abuses than most people. Still, I thought it might be helpful if I took a little time tonight and suggested a few ways to go about this delicate process of asking others for favors.
Let me start you out with the simple philosophy I call “Asking for the world’s smallest favor.”
As you think about the networking contacts with whom you are about to communicate, consider the range of requests you might make and try to pick ones that don’t push the envelope too far. For example, you wouldn’t ask someone you don’t know to put your kids through college or send you on a vacation to Europe for several months. Scaling back from there, asking for the names of recruiters they might know is too easy, although you can start there to get them going.
The depth of the relationship is key to determining how far to go. And, as you get into the conversation you are welcome to change your thinking. The goal is, of course, to get either an appointment or additional contacts. And, a lot will depend on how well connected you are to the individual in question.
The second thought I would send your way is the need to prepare your contact by sending a preliminary personalized email indicating when you might be calling and what you would like to discuss so the conversation can be more focused. I strongly recommend sending your resume in most cases. The thought I would share with you is “speech is the slowest form of communication.” I can get an overview of your background in 30 seconds if you have sent a resume or 5 minutes if you insist on talking me through it. (I used to print the resumes of those who were going to call me, but then I would lose them on my desk. Now when folks call I first ask for their email address and I find their email in my deleted folder much faster.)
While it may be necessary with old friends to engage in a lot of preliminary chatter about the weather, sports or mutual acquaintances, I believe it is better to come to the point. Mention who introduced you to the networking contact or what the connection is and move on as quickly as possible to “business.” It will tend to be a better use of your time and theirs.
If you sense any tension in the voice of the person you are calling, ask if this is a good time to speak with them for 15 minutes or so. Most people will be honest and if it really is a bad time will without too much prompting suggest another time. Don’t offer it up too quickly. Sometimes folks were just working on something else and need a moment to regroup. Be patient because calling back usually doesn’t work.
Now that you have the person’s attention, speaking clearly and in uncomplicated sentences, give them a brief on where you would like to take this conversation. As they say, “cut to the chase” and then use the “pregnant pause” to see where to go next.
Ask easy questions first and move to more difficult questions gradually. Remember, it may take a few moments to get the person on the other end of the phone up to your speed or onto your wave length.
As you know, not all networking calls “work.” Accept defeat, if that is what happened and move on. It just doesn’t pay to “beat a dead horse.” There are always more networking contacts to call and you will just have to content yourself with that thought. You can’t win them all.
Sometimes the real story is that the person you have called actually isn’t able to help.
Those of you who would like to contribute suggestions of your own along these lines should send them to Leads@TheFENG.org with the subject heading “Approaching networking contacts” and Leslie will put them in the Notes from Members” section for you.
Sharing our knowledge and experience is what The FENG is all about, and I would invite you to participate.