A few people will not respond to your e-mails. A few more will reply but offer little help. The majority will happily oblige. They often explicitly tell you how they prefer to connect, so your job is to set up the phone or in-person meeting.
Before the interview, spend at least 15 minutes finding out who this person is and what he or she does. “This leads to more thoughtful questions,” says Choy. “The unstated goal is building trust.” Translation: Make a good impression.
Approach the meeting like an informational interview. Have a list of questions like: What is your role within the organization? How much travel is involved? What is the education or training necessary for this position? We may not know these people well (or at all), but these conversations encourage us to explore our interests, broaden our knowledge base and help us think outside the box. Most importantly, these people are our tickets to our next jobs.
Interviewees generally fall into three categories. One is awkward folks who answer questions with one or two words. Here, the responsibility falls on you to ask good questions. The second group of people answers your questions more thoroughly, and a back-and-forth ensues. The last group, my personal favorite, consists of contacts who are excited to share and connect. Listen well and write quickly, because the floodgates open with that first question.
The most important information you will gather in the meeting is two new contacts. If these are not offered, ask, “Do you know of anyone else within your field willing to share his or her career history with me?”
These two new contacts become the sources for your next two e-mails. Follow the same e-mail format. Set up your informational interviews. Rinse and repeat.
If at any point you lack contacts, fear not. LinkedIn is an excellent online professional networking community. Or, use the alumni services for your educational institutions. Go to conferences. Join the local chapter of your trade or professional society. Volunteer at your local science museum. Use recruiters and educators local to you. Google searches even have resulted in valuable contacts for me.
Do not ask your new contact for a job. If the information is not freely given, ask, “Do you know of any current or future opportunities for someone with my credentials?” or “How do you suggest I approach finding this type of job?” These questions have triggered job possibilities for me, leading to job postings I had not seen and new people to contact.