I love job boards and web sites as much as the next person. But nothing can replace 60 minutes, over a nice beverage, talking face-to-face. When I ask my clients to conduct “information interviews,” their eyes get wide and fearful. “What do I say?” “Who?” “How do I convince them to come out with me?”

This simple act of friendship, the very human act of visiting, becomes a big deal. And it is. Because it works.

Meeting face-to-face with another business professional is the BEST way of beginning a long-term relationship. It is the best way to learn about jobs BEFORE they are advertised, when they are just a glimmer in the eye of the hiring manager. I call it the Career Conversation™ because it’s the best way to expand your knowledge about careers, and energize your job search.

Meeting with other job seekers is just as powerful as meeting with the employed. Remember, they lost their jobs–not their minds. They have relevant information to share!

Here are some tips to help make face time more powerful:

  1. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes you can be too purposeful, and have too much agenda. Let yourself have coffee with interesting people who appeal to you. Every person you meet can provide a piece of the puzzle. Even if you walk away thinking, “That job wouldn’t work for me!” you have spent your time well.
  2. Do a little research. After a business card exchange with a new acquaintance, look them up on LinkedIn. Invite them to connect. Read their profile, and look at the website of their employer–current or immediate past.
  3. Be on time and gracious. If you suggested the meeting, it’s nice to buy the drinks. You are going to get much more than the $8.00 you spent. By giving something upfront, you are creating an energy vacuum that your guest will want to fill with help for you.
  4. Focus on the other person. Ask about their background and education. Ask how they got the job lead that led to their current work. Ask what they like about their job, and what frustrates them. Ask about company structure: who they report to, what departments and clients they interact with. Try to get a picture of the company organization and how you might fit in.
  5. Recognize a job lead when you hear one. A lead can be as simple as, “We are so slammed right now!” You can follow up by asking, “Does the company typically hire contract workers in this situation?” or “What type of staff might be helpful?” Get the NAMES of departments, managers, staffing firms, etc. Only an insider can provide these. And they are gold.
  6. Practice on peers. Don’t have your first Career Conversation with the Vice President of Marketing. Meet, instead, with the person who just lost her job as Marketing Coordinator. She is going to tell you what is really going on, AND you can help her with your own knowledge.
  7. Focus on job positions, industry information and company insights. Imagine yourself in a new job position. Learn all you can to see if there’s a fit. The industry information can help you target companies you haven’t considered before. An insider’s view of a company culture can help you decide if that’s the right place for you. Listen for ideas, and reciprocate with your own. Brainstorm on ways you can help each other.
  8. Ask for help. After about 40 minutes, tell your career goals, and ask for help. “I’m making a switch to Project Management and would appreciate any leads you can provide about jobs inside your company.”
  9. Just do it. Meeting with a new business contact is inspiring, enlightening and FUN. Haven’t you been alone, in front of your computer, long enough? Get out there and network!

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