For some, networking comes naturally. They are comfortable in almost any professional environment and can handle meeting new people with confidence and charm. It does not however, come this easily to everyone, yet it is a critical aspect of any successful job search. Networking allows you to meet new people, gather job market information, gain visibility in the job market and find out about potential positions.

Regardless of how you feel about networking you can benefit from a few simple guidelines that will help you make the most of your networking meetings.

In The 20-Minute Networking Meeting, Marcia Ballinger outlines a to-the-minute approach you can use in your networking efforts.

First Impression (2-3 minutes). Arrive a few minutes early and make light conversation with the gatekeeper. Thank the contact for his or her time. Keep the chitchat light and focus on what you have in common. Then take a moment to set the meeting agenda.

Overview (1 minute). Give a brief summary of what you’re looking for professionally and mention what brings you to the job market. Here, less is more. Most contacts only need to know what job titles and industries you’re targeting – any more and your goal gets lost. Again, be concise.

Discussion (12-15 minutes). Next, ask a few questions that allow the contact to help you and take notes on the answers. Ask questions they are uniquely qualified to answer, and don’t ask obvious questions that can be answered with basic research. After your initial questions, be sure to ask the contact if there is anything you can do for him or her, so it is a mutually beneficial relationship. Finally, ask for a referral to someone he or she thinks you should speak to next. Slowly but surely, you are adding to your list of solid contacts.

Ending (2 minutes). End the meeting on time to show that you are organized and value other people’s time. Thank them again for the opportunity to meet; and let them know you’d like to keep in touch.

Follow-up (Post-meeting). Send a thank-you note, being sure to include some kind of reciprocal action or useful information that will be of value to them based on your conversation. Keep notes about the contact and meeting, and make a note or calendar alert to follow up with this contact down the road. Next, make contact with any referrals to set up your next networking meetings.

Networking doesn’t have to be complicated, long or schmoozy. Follow these simple guidelines to make the most of your networking efforts!

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