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Don't Make Me Think
From Career Tips, 2019 Volume 1, January 2019There is a good book on website user design by this title, and the core takeaway is that a confused buyer doesn't buy. The more I have to think about what I'm looking at, or which option to click on, the more 'noise' there is on your website, and the less it has a clear path for me to follow, the less successful your website will be in getting me to take action (other than clicking away from it).
The same is true in networking (not to mention interviewing).
How many times has someone come to meet with you, you've asked them what they want to do, and their answer has been along the lines of one of these:
In all of these, the other person is expecting you to do the work to figure out where they might fit. They think they are casting a wide net by being very open to different possibilities. Instead they are throwing out a net that is full of huge holes through which most of those possibilities will escape.
Similarly, I often see people sending contacts unsolicited resumes. I get it, you're proud of your background and what you've put together, and you want to equip people with a package they can show on your behalf, but it's kind of presumptuous to assume I want to read your resume if I haven't yet met with you. That's asking me to do work ahead of time. And it also gives the networking meeting more of an aura of an interview, or asking for a job, which generally weakens the connection and the potential results.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't send a resume if someone specifically asks for one. But you might think about having a shorter piece, say a half page summary, for those who want to know more about you before meeting.
If you want to be really effective in networking, and have it lead to the most and best possibilities, you need to make it easy for the other person. You need to present a clear and concise message that shows your target, and exactly why that target makes sense. (IE, the talking points that show what results you would bring to the table or what problems you would solve for that target.)
In other words, don't make it so that the other person has to think hard to figure out where you might fit, or what they would be able to say on your behalf. If you do, it's unlikely they will actually provide much in the way of referrals, and you can just imagine what that referral might look like:
"Jim, I've suggested Carl meet with you because he's looking for a job, and he's a nice guy."
"Oh, I'm not sure exactly what he's looking for, but he seems to have some interesting skills."
"No, I can't give you a concrete example of how he's contributed to past employers, but he worked for company x for 10 years before they laid him off, so he must have something to offer."
But what if you don't really know your target?
Not all is lost.
You can start out your networking efforts using that as the agenda for your meetings, telling a contact that you are struggling to figure out the best direction, and would like to brainstorm with them and get their expert advice.
But then work hard to distill the advice you get into a clear direction and message, so that the next round of meetings can be very focused and lead you in that direction.