Assume you have scheduled the meeting with Susannah; the framework for the RAPP networking meeting is based on four principles:
- Rapport building.
- Personal credibility.
We can’t say it any more directly than this: if Susannah bonds with you, great things can happen. You have had years of experience in meeting new people and rapport building through interactive conversation about the weather, career interests, friends, interests, sports, or activities.
You have an opportunity to solve a business problem, but, more important, you have an opportunity to begin a new relationship. The importance of rapport building cannot be overemphasized. So, quiet those voices in your head that push for the business portion of the meeting to begin. Bonding takes place continuously, so the best communication style is an enjoyable, stimulating, interactive pattern throughout the meeting.
When Susannah is ready to move on, she will say, “What did Ted want you to speak with me about?” or “How can I help you?” That clearly signals a move from rapport building to data gathering and analysis.
In the analysis portion, you’ll give Susannah your résumé unless she asked you to e-mail it to her before the meeting. Susannah will want you to discuss your background with her. The purpose of this exercise is to place you in the business hierarchy (entry level, middle level, senior level).
You don’t have a lot of time to present your background, since research indicates that the average educated adult has an attention span of less than 60 seconds. Your rule should be that no answer is longer than 60 seconds. If the interviewer wants more information, she will ask for it. Some interviewers will want more background, some less, so you need to be ready to present your three or four major competencies and have accomplishments to prove your abilities.
Once Susannah understands your level, she might say, “You have a great background. How I can help you?” From this point forward, the transitions in your presentation become key. If you handle them well, your networking interview will proceed smoothly. If you do not, then you may have a struggle. Your transitions will move the conversation seamlessly from broad-based industry knowledge, to company, to people.
Suppose you said, “As I mentioned on the phone, I’m interested in a finance position for a firm in the Dallas metropolitan area. I know you consult to some firms in Dallas and I’d love to get your perspective on some of the major challenges facing these firms in the finance area.” That might lead Susannah to tell you about a few of her clients, the issues they are facing in finance or in general, and her overall view of the marketplace.
As you complete the conversation regarding the industry issues, you might make the transition to company by replying, “Your comments on the industry are insightful. Which companies do you feel are best positioned to meet these challenges?”
Susannah might begin to name some of the companies she knows or she may ask, “Which companies have you targeted?” Either approach is valid and you need to be ready. In the case where she asks you, you should have a list of those companies. In your case, you might have targeted large companies in a few industries. Susannah will appreciate this because it will immediately provide focus and she will be able to shape her answers.
What you want to know is whether Susannah thinks you have selected the correct target companies. Hopefully, she will add or delete from your list, and will give reasons for her suggestions. If she doesn’t, you can inquire, “Does my list seem on track to you?”
Once the companies have been explored, you will make the transition to the third of the four principles: people. You might ask, “Susannah, do you know finance executives in any of those companies?” If not, perhaps Susannah knows someone else in the company who may be able to help you. You always want to get a contact to the highest-level possible. Susannah may not know a specific person in a company, but she may know someone at a competitor who knows the targeted executive well. It isn’t always possible to reach your targeted contact directly, but one step removed isn’t bad.
Quality contacts, then, are the critical component of the network interview. In your role as vice president of sales of your company, it is your responsibility to monitor the number of networking interviews you have and the quantity of names you generate. The specific goal of a single network meeting should be two or three quality names, in addition to Susannah. Perhaps the easiest way to remember and monitor your progress is a baseball system that examines the number of quality names generated in this manner:
- 0: Out (You networked to Susannah and if, at the end of the meeting she didn’t like you, then you started with one name and ended with none.)
- 1: Single (You met Susannah and she liked you, but she professed to know no one else; then you started with one name and ended with one.)
- 2: Double (Susannah liked you and gave you one name.)
- 3: Triple (Susannah liked you and gave you two names.)
- 4: Home Run (Susannah liked you and gave you three or more names.)
The last of the four principles is personal credibility, which is a reminder that the most important contact is the one who is sitting in front of you at the moment, Susanna. The reason the network meeting must take place in person or virtually is because Susanna must see you as a composite and not just an outstanding résumé. She needs to see how you present yourself and your energy, motivation, and drive. Susannah knows you want references from her, and that it is her credibility riding on her referral.
The voices in Susannah’s head are saying, “______ wants me to remember him and refer him to my friends. I will not do that unless I am convinced that ________ will make a good impression. I do not want to be embarrassed.”