The goal is of networking is NOT to find a job – it is to put yourself in a position where you can get lucky and a job can find you. So with each person you meet, you need to add to your knowledge and awareness of the “scene” and also find one or two other persons to meet.
Therefore, you need to come to networking with the right set of questions and answers at your fingertips. The questions are overtly designed to get you the right information and connections to continue your quest, and subtly to show you as the kind of curious and involved person that your contact would love to hire if he/she had a job.
But before we cover your preparation for these questions, there is one key factor that must be established: ATTITUDE. Your attitude and approach to networking has to be relentlessly positive and even have a touch of BS where you don’t actually feel so positive. You need to avoid the trap of aimlessness, unsureness, wishy-washy-ness that is probably what most recent college graduates are feeling.
This is especially hard because many of the folks with whom you will be meeting will want to provide you sympathy and support for the difficult task you are undertaking, particularly in this economic climate.
The best way to accomplish this “attitude adjustment” is to practice it like it was a role in a play, until that character becomes you and you can switch her on and off. This may sound weird, but there is no room for timidity or uncertainty in the process. That is not to say that you can’t have real questions that the “target” can answer – they don’t expect you to be as focused as they are, and they love being helpful. But you can’t appear to be wasting their time by requiring them to help you find your focus. Your focus will appear on its own as this process unfolds.
Lots of talk about “getting out of the building” as we test all of our hypotheses about who is our customer and what does he/she want or need. The following links are a helpful way to put some meat on the bones, especially if this is the first time you have engaged in such a process. This can also help us avoid ones natural tendency to conduct an impersonal “survey” to avoid the process. The real challenge is keeping your biases to a minimum impact – more on that later.
How to think about customer development interviews
Some tips on how to find folks to interview
How to think about what you should be learning (and thus the questions . . . )
These are just some common sense tips to help you get started:
- Schedule a time for the interview in advance. Let the person know that you only need 15-20 minutes if it is over the phone, 20 or so if in person. If the interview goes well, you can always run over, but you don’t want to put people off from the start.
- Make it clear why you are doing this. If you are a student, play that card. Explain briefly the area you are trying to learn about and why?
- Do not call a potential “competitor” and be deceitful about your purpose.
- Prepare a “line of questioning” in advance. You don’t need to stick exactly to it, but it can serve as a good framework.
- Ask “open-ended” questions. Follow-up with “why,” or “tell me more about that,” etc.
- Don’t guide people into the answer you hope to get. Give them freedom to give their opinion and use their expertise.
- Whenever possible, do this in teams of two – one to lead the discussion and the other to take notes and to insure in the end that you have covered what you set out to learn.
- Write out your notes immediately after the interview – don’t let it get stale.
- If you are a member, post your interview notes to LeanLaunchLab right away as well.
- Ask if they would mind if you followed up in case there are soother questions or to share the “results” of the process in the form of your product offering or whatever.
- Also, ask if there is anyone else they think you should talk to that they feel would be helpful.