The 20-Minute Networking Meeting (revisited)

August, 2013

In 2012, Keystone Search Partner Marcia Ballinger and researcher Nathan Perez wrote a book called “The 20-Minute Networking Meeting” that has become a great tool for anyone interested in becoming a more efficient and effective networker. Last October I posted a short blog on my web site summarizing key recommendations from this book, and I am expanding on that blog this month. A few weeks ago, I heard Marcia present at an executive forum, and would like to now share some of her latest thinking on networking.

For the past year I have been giving a copy of this book to each of my new clients, and several other career transition firms are doing the same. If you don’t own this book, I suggest you buy it now and use it for both the shorter and longer versions of your networking meetings. Try some experiments where you stick firmly to the “20-minute rule”, and if your circumstances allow more time, you can use the same format and principles and expand the session. It works very well either way.

When you contact people you don’t know terribly well, or for your connections with recruiters, offering a 20-minute meeting will be a smart and welcome alternative. It is surprising how much can be accomplished in a short time! Here is a summary of comments from Marcia Ballinger during her presentation earlier this month (and some from me as well).

Marcia began by offering three key goals for each networking session:

1) Learn something.
2) Get more names for your networking list.
3) Create an evangelist (someone who, after the meeting, will go out of their way to help you).

She repeatedly stressed the need to keep meetings to less than 30 minutes, and never an hour! This will be especially appreciated if the person is not a close connection, and if you made the commitment to 20 minutes up front.

Your first job, however, is to get the meeting. Marcia suggested that when you contact the individual, you provide as much detail as possible, framing clearly who you are, who referred you, and why you are requesting the meeting. Once the meeting is secured, here are the five steps Marcia outlined in her presentation and in her book:

Step 1: Great First Impression

2-3 minutes of thanks, connecting and setting an agenda

Don’t forget gratitude (during and following the meeting). In Marcia’s experience, easily 50% of networking meetings don’t include the words “thank you.” Hard to believe, but true. As you start your meeting, strengthen the bond with details about your common connection. Add some appropriate color to the commentary about your common connection, making it interesting.

You called the meeting, so you set the agenda, Marcia says. Don’t do a “bait and switch.” This meeting is your responsibility. She is surprised by how often the one calling the meeting is not proactive about leading it. Take charge.

Step 2: Great Overview

1 minute for giving an overview of your experience

Don’t be too narrow or too broad, and don’t take more than a minute to overview your background. Be more specific with search professionals, perhaps, and more general with others. Let your behavior demonstrate your other positive attributes (the all-important personality and fit factors).

Step 3: Great Discussion

12-15 minutes discussing five key questions:

• Three unique questions using a Statement->Question model
• One question asking for names of other contacts
• One question asking how you can help the person you are meeting with

(That last suggestion is worth the price of the book. Common sense, uncommon practice.)

Step 4: Great ending

2 minutes for thanks and wrap-up

Step 5: Great Follow-up

• Meaningful follow-up, right after the meeting
• Keep careful track of all your follow-up action items.
• Appropriate ways to stay on their radar, on top of their list.

Marcia suggested that those people who are prolific networkers, but not good at follow-up, should consider networking half as much, and following-up twice as much. This is not just a numbers game, not a transaction game. Overall quality of the interaction and follow-through trumps mere quantity of contacts. Take time to circle back with both the person you just met with and the person who referred you. Marcia also suggested a personal touch when following up. Don’t be afraid to make your follow-up response a warm one, including reminders of your connections and ways that you might stay in touch.

And finally, Marcia quoted the CEO of a national executive search firm who was recently asked what he thought was the best way to “stay on top” of a search firm’s list. “Reach out to your whole network, and forget about us!” was the recruiter’s instant reply. Where do recruiters find you? They find you through your network. What network contacts are going to be most helpful to recruiters? Your evangelists.

Now, if you don’t already own it, go buy this book! If you do own it, read it again. Whether employed or in transition, your network will always be one of your most important career assets. Take good care of your network, and your network will take good care of you.