I’d like to pick your brain

Really? Does that even sound nice? Your mother might tell you that’s something nice people don’t say at the dinner table. It’s also something you shouldn’t say when asking for a networking meeting.

Four other things you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t assume you know anything about the person.
  • Don’t focus the conversation on you and your needs.
  • Don’t tell your sad story.
  • Don’t push your resume at them.

If you want to network your way to a job, you want to do it indirectly. Grabbing a coffee with an old friend and attacking it too hard makes you the pariah you hate being in the first place. Here’s a better way to approach it:

Ask gently to get together. You might say, “I’m in transition and I would like your advice.” Or “I’m sourcing job leads and I want to learn more about your job position.” Or, “I really admire you. I’d like to learn more about your career.” Make the conversation all about the other person. If you allow the other person to talk, you’ll win a friend and advocate.

Be ready with lots of questions. Do your homework and learn a little about the company. Ask about what’s going on in their industry segment. Ask about the person’s job: how long have they had it, how did they get the job, and what education and experience do they have. Finally, ask about their company: what’s the culture, do they like their boss, and to what department do they report.

You are looking for insider information. You want to find out the names of job titles that might be suitable for you. You want to know how the company is structured and how large your future department might be. You want to know who the hiring managers are, and whether they are great to work for. In short, you are looking for everything the job description doesn’t tell you.

Focus the conversation on the other person. As you do, imagine yourself in their role, in their company, in their industry. When you do occasionally turn the conversation back to you, ask: “Do you think my background might fit?” Listen carefully and ask: “What do you think is the best way to apply to your company?”

At the end of the conversation, tell the person clearly and simply what you are looking for – in 30 seconds or less. Answer their questions—if they are interested. Ask if you can send your resume by email. (Be ready to hand over one ONLY if they ask for it.)

Follow up with a thank-you email the same day. If there is a hot job in their company, send a second email with your resume. Make your cover message friendly, short and refer to your relationship. If you are lucky, this will be forwarded by your friend to HR or the hiring manager. When they do, it’s an implied endorsement.

Done right, you’ve gotten savvy about a job position, about a company, about a market segment. Even if it’s not the perfect fit for you. You got smarter.

And you got a clue.

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