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Avoid the #1 "Conversation-Killing" Networking Question - PART 4: How to . . . Ask the 4 Target Questions

"Do you know of any job openings?" 
        If the answer is “NO,” it’ll be a short conversation.

“Do you know of any job openings?” is an ill-advised way to open a networking conversation.  In fact, it’s a “conversation killer!”

Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this 4-part Networking-HOW TO-series discussed the importance of communication skills and strategy, and some tips and techniques, for holding a productive networking conversation or meeting.  With that information digested and understood, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter:  How to get your contact talking and sharing information that is RELEVANT to your job search and critical to your success by asking the 4 Target Questions of an effective networking conversation.

The Art of Asking Good Questions
First a word about asking questions.  Good questions don’t just happen!  There is an art and strategy to asking good questions. 

Have you ever noticed how some conversationalists, interviewers, and sales people get people not only talking but sharing lots of information, while others barely eek out a 1 or 2-word answer?  Wonder why?  Well, one factor is planning the outcomes they desire and designing their questions to elicit those answers. 

Two types of questions:  Effective conversationalists know that asking open-ended questions draws people out.  You just can’t answer an open question with one or two words.  
  • Open questions, beginning with words such as how, why, who, and what, generally can’t be answered in one or two words and produce more informative responses.   
  • Closed questions are the opposite!  These questions yield short responses:  yes, no, names, and numbers.  They can be asked to confirm understanding or to provide specific information.  Illustrations of closed question include phrases such as: “Do you know . . ?, Can you do . . ?, Are you saying . . ?, etc.”  You get the idea.
So, to hold a networking conversation that produces information, design your questions to. . . .
  1. Elicit information by asking open-ended questions,
  2. Confirm understanding or get clarity by asking closed-ended questions, and
  3. Equally importantly, get your networking contact thinking about you long after your conversation is over.  Then, when your network contact does come across a job lead that’s right for you, or meets a person who could be helpful to your search, he/she will think of you!
Ask open-ended questions that get the networking conversation flowing.
Ask about:   
Organizations or companies     People     Professional associations     "Headhunters"

Ask the 4 Target Questions
Remember the guideline . . .  Your networking contact should be talking about 60% of the time, in order for you to learn information that will assist you in finding your next job.  Strategically target your questions to uncover needs, opportunities, and more contacts.   Here are the key questions to ask:

Target Question 1: Are you aware of any good organizations I ought to look into?  What are they?  What do you know about them?
This gets your contact thinking about companies and other types of organizations which have impressed them.  If your contact is stuck, this would be a good time to pull out your Marketing Plan and show your plan to your contact.  The Plan often serves as a memory jogger and triggered ideas.
    Question 1 Variation:  Tell me about your organization. 
Begin with this question if the person your are talking with is employed.  It gets the conversation going and allows your contact to be immediately helpful.  
    Then follow-up with your question about additional organizations your contact thinks well of, if appropriate.  Caution: Skip asking about other organizations if there is a hot opportunity at your contact’s firm, and he or she is willing to refer, or even better champion you.  

Target Question 2: Are there people you know whom you think it would be good for me to talk with? Who are they? Please tell me a little about them. 
Receiving a referral to your networking contact’s contacts, is networking at its best.  You begin to meet people whom your contact believes can be helpful to you.  As contacts refer you to contacts, and they in turn refer you to their contacts, the multiplier effect occurs.  Talking with people to whom you are referred is the best route to finding opportunities on the hidden market, and to your next position.
    Importantly, in order to know how to proceed, clarify if your contact will make the referral, or if you can simply use the name of your contact in contacting the referral.  Clarify when they will make the contact so that you don’t jump the gun or step on any toes! 

Target Question 3: Are you aware of any good professional associations or groups that you have benefited from participating in and that might be helpful to me?  How did they benefit you?  What are they?
Professional associations provide a wealth of opportunities to a job seeker.
  1. You meet people in companies in your profession with whom you can schedule meetings, or contact for information.  Give them a call the next day, and you’ll find they’ll take your call.
  2. You hear the “who’s who’s” of your industry, the association meeting speakers, present topics that are relevant and timely to your profession, giving you additional information to discuss in interviews.  Striking up a conversation with the meeting speaker also adds another name to your list of network contacts whom you can call upon for networking assistance.
Target Question 4: Have you worked with any “headhunters” (executive search firms) or employment agencies that you found particularly effective?  What did you like about them?  Which ones do you suggest? 
While no one but you can or should be responsible for managing your career and your job search, headhunters and agencies are another avenue to employment.  Finding 1 or 2 whom you can effectively work with is simply taking advantage of another avenue to employment.

Caution: Don’t rely solely on the use of an executive search firm - headhunter - or employment agency to “find you your next position.”  That could take a long time if the headhunter does not have an opportunities for which you would be a potential fit.  However, the use of a firm to also identify opportunities, in addition to those you generate,  is a good strategy.

To Sum it All Up
Asking questions that draw your networking contact out, encouraging them to share information and refer you to others, will yield returns in leads to opportunities, and lead you to the door of your next position!
For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.
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