Okay – let’s take a second and chat here. There’s a topic I think needs some addressing – how to approach someone with whom you’d like to network. Now, if you’ve read my post about why I’m convinced most people think of networking all wrong, you’ll likely know that I believe one common misconception to be the idea that networking is only something to be done with people who “outrank” you. Definitely check out that post to learn why I think this is completely backwards.
However – there are times when it is absolutely appropriate to reach out to and strive to learn from those who have gone before you. I have been on both sides of these conversations – I’ve sought advice from mentors, and I’ve mentored younger professionals. Let me tell you – it can be awkward. You really never know what you’re going to get from either end. I’ve gotten cold emails basically asking me to help someone land a job – I’ve also gotten great emails from humble people genuinely seeking industry insight. I would argue that there are definitely better ways to approach those in positions you one day hope to fill.
That being said, here are some sample conversation starters to help break the ice!
“I would love to learn a bit about your trajectory. What was your first job, and how did you land it?”
This is my go-to starter-question. It accomplishes two things:
- It warms up the other person by inviting them to share about themselves
- It dials the point of reference back to the entry-level time frame – which is likely more relatable and accessible to the person on the receiving end
I always like to know how people “broke in.” In my opinion, that’s the hardest part.
“What does your day to day look like?”
Again – this is part of a larger strategy. When I’m networking with someone with whom I’m not close, I try to keep the conversation focused on them and their experiences for as long as possible. Not to mention – I enjoy hearing about the responsibilities of those with whom I work – I find I’m a better team player and better able to anticipate the needs of others if I understand the demands of their job.
“What do you most enjoy about the job? What do you find to be most challenging?”
“What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned over the course of your career so far?”
The mistake that I see a lot of young professionals making is asking for help before there is a foundation of mutual understanding and trust. I’m always more inclined to help those who first pursue knowledge – not positions. Seek knowledge.
“What qualities do you look for in your team?”
Still keeping the conversation focused on knowledge acquisition – not to mention, this is key to being hired and promoted.
IF. And only if you feel the conversation is going well, now is your opportunity to ask for advice. But I prefer to ask for advice as it pertains to my CURRENT position. Again – a foundation of trust is necessary before you can expect someone to go out on a limb for you. Seek knowledge and advice to be the best version of yourself. That commitment will speak wonders about your work ethic. It’s proof that you’re there to learn to do the work – not to ask someone else to do it for you. Chase knowledge, and the jobs – and support – will come.