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Before ever picking up the telephone, you must know the exact approach you wish to use with the referral. This will not only help relieve any personal tension you may feel about making the call, but it will also go a long way in improving your overall success as a networker. In most cases, you will be speaking with high-level executives accustomed to dealing with other key decision makers, so your presentation must be a concise model of commanding distinction and persuasiveness. You simply cannot afford to paint a portrait that makes you appear fuzzy around the edges.

    • Summary of Qualifications and Job Objective - A summary of qualifications is nothing more than a capsulized statement of your qualifications. It should give the contact a basic understanding of your background and a sense of your abilities, but must not include so much detail that the person will lose interest. This means your presentation should not exceed two minutes in length. And while technically not part of a summary of qualifications, it should also identify the exact type of position you are seeking. (NOTE: Always take at least three copies of your executive resume with you to a face-to-face meeting, and at this point you would hand the person a single copy for “discussion purposes.” If the contact later offers to discuss your background with other associates, offer the remaining copies to help facilitate those interactions. Otherwise, take the extra copies back home with you.)

Consider the following example: “Let me give you a brief overview of my background. I’m the CFO of Ajax Corporation, a $385 million global consumer products company, and I have 22 years of diversified experience in strategic planning, financial management, accounting, operations, technology, human resources and general administration. I am the point man for locating, evaluating and negotiating strategic partnerships and acquisitions averaging about $45 million each, and I also direct all phases of the due diligence and assimilation process."

“When I began my current position eight years ago, the company was burdened with $65 million in short-term bank debt and had four years of cumulative losses exceeding $80 million. Today, after working in partnership with our CEO, we have nearly $110 million in cash, no bank debt, and a new $125 million revolving credit agreement with three major banks. I have spearheaded two acquisitions in the U.S. and one in Canada with a combined value of nearly $135 million. I report directly to the President/CEO and interface on a regular basis with the Board of Directors. I’m a CPA and have an M.B.A. from Penn State. My current goal is another CFO position, although my primary focus is on the telecommunications industry.”

Obviously, you would indicate an interest in the contact’s industry, unless there is a specific reason not to do so. By tying yourself to that particular industry, you have a better chance of gaining the person’s interest in you as a potential employee, while strengthening your mutual bond as you prepare to move on to the next step in the process. Be ready, of course, to answer the question as to why you wish to transition into a new industry, assuming it is different than your current situation. Remember, stating that you have “an interest” in a particular industry is substantially different than saying it is your target industry, so choose your words carefully.

    • Asking for Advice and Guidance - Many inexperienced networkers question the objective of asking for advice and guidance from networking referrals, as opposed to directly inquiring about job leads. They commonly ask, “Isn’t the purpose of networking to get a job?” Certainly your ultimate objective is to get a job, but you can’t just place a call to someone you don’t know and expect the person to immediately produce a job for you. Successful networking requires that you be far more subtle and use an indirect approach.

Always begin this portion of the meeting with at least four or five broad-based questions designed to tap the contact’s knowledge and experiences, before moving on to more specific follow-up questions dealing with your particular situation. Consider the following two examples of broad-based (open-ended) questions:

Example #1: “Bruce mentioned that you had made a successful transition from the publishing industry to the telecommunications industry. Since I am thinking about making a transition from the consumer products industry into the telecommunications field, I though you might have some general advice about things that worked well for you. In other words, how did you manage the transition and is there anything in particular you might recommend I try.”

Example #2: “As a leader in the telecommunications industry, I would like your thoughts on some of the major trends you feel might have an impact on my job search. In other words, things like market expansion and contraction, new products and markets, key industry challenges and opportunities, and so on. Basically, I’m interested in anything you feel might be helpful for me to know from a job-search perspective.”

After asking your broad-based questions and listening to the contact’s views and suggestions, there should be a point where you get a sense that the time has come to focus on more specific follow-up questions that target your particular situation. Many of these will undoubtedly result from listening to the contact talk, but always have five or six such questions prepared in advance (just in case). Note the following examples of two such questions:

Example #1: “Based on what you’ve learned about me during our discussion, what are my strongest and weakest selling points? And given these strengths and weaknesses, what job search strategies would you suggest I pursue?”

Example #2: “Have you ever used executive search firms? If so, which of them do you feel were most productive and who should I talk to at each firm?”

    • Obtaining New Referrals - Since it is unlikely the contact will have ever spoken to you prior to your call, it is essential that you develop a personal rapport with the person throughout your conversation. If you are successful at developing a cordial relationship, some people may actually volunteer referral names without you even having to inquire about them. In most cases, however, you will need to ask for additional networking referrals as you near the final stage of your conversation. If, however, you have not established a good rapport, few contacts will share the names of their personal acquaintances, even if you ask for them. In other cases, you may feel you have established a good rapport, only to discover the person is extremely reluctant to provide the names of new referrals for some unknown personal reason.

If the person does not volunteer the names of new leads, there is really no subtle way to ask for them. Your approach must be fairly direct, which is why it is so important to go through the social warm-up period so that the individual is willing to assist you. Just don’t ask something like: “Do you know of any companies that might be looking for a senior-level financial executive?” Assuming you have established a reasonable rapport, note the following two examples of diplomatic ways to ask your contact for the names of additional referrals:

Example #1: “As you think about people you know in the telecommunications industry such as consultants, vendors, or people managing other companies, who would you recommend I talk to next?”

Example #2: “Two of my target companies are Global Telecommunications and Delaware Valley Telephonic. Do you know anyone at either of these firms who I might contact directly?”

Don’t forget to obtain some personal information about each new lead and be sure to inquire about the relationship between the contact and the referral. For example: “How well do you know Craig and what can you tell me about him that might help break the ice when we talk?” This will make it easier for you to prepare a script and establish the type of rapport that leads to success in obtaining yet another round of referrals. Also, make sure you ask for permission to use the person’s name when you contact the new referral. For example: “Would you mind if I tell both Craig and Phyllis that you suggested I call?”

    • Closing - When speaking on the telephone, do not mention your executive resume until you’re ready to close the conversation. If the contact has not asked you for a copy at the conclusion of your discussion, offer to mail one in a diplomatic fashion. For example: “I have just finished preparing my executive resume and it would benefit me greatly if you would review it with your experienced eye. If I mail you a copy, would you be willing to look it over and give me some feedback concerning its content and any ideas you might have for improving it?”

Seeking an assessment of your executive resume can provide three benefits. First, you may get some valuable information that will help improve its effectiveness. Second, if the person agrees to provide you with feedback, it opens the door for an additional contact. Third, many job hunters understate their abilities and accomplishments during these types of meetings for fear of being considered a braggart. As a result, the contact may not fully appreciate the full scope of your experience or the true value of your contributions. Asking the person to read your executive resume in order to provide feedback is an effective method for communicating the details of your background and potential value to the organization that you may not have verbalized during the discussion – assuming you have a top-notch executive resume.

The final step in closing the discussion is an expression of your appreciation for the person’s time and assistance. For example: “Bill, I genuinely appreciate the time you spent with me today despite your busy schedule. Your help has been invaluable and I especially appreciate your suggestion that I contact Craig Ellis and Phyllis Donnelly. If there is ever any way I can assist you, I hope you will give me a call. Again, many thanks.”

Follow-Up Commitments are Time Consuming 
If you feel it is appropriate, you may ask the contact if you might keep him or her posted on the outcome of your meetings with the new referrals and the progress of your job search. This is an effective method for staying in touch with the person, but as your network expands you are likely to find the practicality of such well-intentioned statements can become difficult to fulfill. Even sending each person with whom you speak a thank-you note can become a logistical nightmare.

Use your own discretion, but a heartfelt verbal “thank you” at the end of a networking call is usually quite satisfactory. The exception, of course, is a face-to-face meeting. In this case, a thank-you note is certainly appropriate since the person was considerate enough to take the time to meet with you personally. In addition, if you have established a particularly favorable relationship, you may call once or twice to let the contact know how your search is progressing, and then once again when you land a new position. Just remember, too many calls will become more annoying than informative.

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