An effective tip is to ask for “insight and advice.” This gem comes from a recent contact, Joan Plotnick, a writer and editor in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
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.