Purpose Hacks

7 tips for having a successful networking meeting

Part 1 of 2. Read part 2 here

Many of us understand that networking is an essential part of an active job search, but once we land a stable job, we often drop all networking activities. It’s hard enough to find time to balance our day job and our personal commitments, without adding networking meetings to the mix. But a conscious effort to maintain a minimal level of networking activities when not in an active job search is the hallmark of effective career management.

Some reasons to network even when you have a job:

  • Make a new connection
  • Learn and gain intelligence (of a market, landscape or a company – what’s going on, what’s the climate),
  • Establish and communicate your personal brand and story
  • Build goodwill- become someone they know, like, trust, want to help out
  • Maintain your network- keeping in touch, stay top of mind, nurture it for when you may need to lean on it
  • For many people, there is intrinsic satisfaction in building human connections, and in some cases, friendships – it really is a social exercise, not purely a business or professional interaction

Whatever your motivation for a networking meeting, be sure you are clear on the intention of a particular meeting so you can make the most of the other person’s time, and the opportunity with which it presents you.

To help understand and test our assumptions about how best to network and make a good impression, I designed a 14-question survey aimed at those who often receive proactive networking requests. 116 people completed the survey in June 2018.  Of these respondents, 82% identified as being in their mid or late career stage, 58% managed a team of people and 34% were at the Director or Executive level. Special thanks to my MaRS colleague David Ko who helped with the survey design and analysis.

7 tips for having a successful networking meeting

 1.  When reaching out to connect on LinkedIn – personalize your message.

Always use the personal message option when connecting with someone new on LinkedIn.  This tactic Increases the chance the person will accept the connection by 100%.

When we asked, “If someone whom you do not know requests to connect with you on LinkedIn, WITHOUT a personalized note indicating why they’d like to connect, do you accept?”, 45% said Always or Sometimes.  When asked the same question swapping in  “WITH a personalized note”, 91% responded with Always or Sometimes

If you are viewing the profile of the person you’d like to connect with, LinkedIn will prompt you to personalize your note before it sends your connection the request.  However, be aware that if you are attempting to connect from another view, like when you are scrolling through possible connections when you click “connect” from that screen, it will send the connection request immediately and will not prompt you to add the personal note.

What should my personal note say?

  • A bit about who you are
  • Why you want to connect with them specifically
  • Mention any mutual connections or points of intersection (schools, past employers, volunteer associations)

2.  Referrals work – people trust and respect their network.

We asked, “If someone is referred to you through a mutual contact, do you tend to accept their invitation to meet or speak on the phone?”

  • 74% said Always
  • 23% said Sometimes
  • 3% said Rarely

We also asked, “If you refer networking contacts to other people in your own network, what do you tend to find?”

  • 93% said their network showed general receptivity to meeting with people I refer
  • 7% said the contacts in their network were often too busy to respond

3.  Don’t be annoying.

I think we’ve all heard the advice: Don’t give up, be persistent, show tenacity, don’t get lost in their inbox!  But is this the right advice?

Our data showed that beyond one follow up, occasionally two, you run the risk of being seen as annoying.  Clearly, that is not the right tone to strike when trying to get someone to lend you some of their time.

4. Be resourceful, but strategic.

We asked, “How might you feel if you realized that this person has already met, or spoken with other senior people at your organization?”

  • 62% said Good for them for being resourceful
  • 20% said Annoyed that they are taking up so much time from people within my organization

Of the 18% who chose “Other”, their comments generally indicated “it depends”, or a version of “If they are looking to get different information or perspective from a variety of departments, that makes sense”.

5. Expect a 30-minute phone call.

We asked, “If you accept a request to give some time to someone you do not already know, do you prefer to arrange an initial”

  • 48% said Phone call
  • 28% said E-mail
  • 21% said In-person meeting
  • 3% said other

And when also asked, “How much time do you tend to reserve?

  • 60% said 30 minutes
  • 18% said 15 minutes
  • 13% said 45 minutes
  • 7% said 60 minutes

The implications here are interesting.  My advice would still be to ask for a face-to-face meeting because the chance is much greater to build a good rapport and connection in person.  But regardless, whether you are meeting in person or over the phone, always plan for 30 minutes (if the meeting goes longer, that’s great!). Thirty minutes can go by very quickly, so it is critical to be prepared and strategic with your questions – build some rapport but then get to the point before it’s too late.

6. Preparation is Critical.

We asked respondents “What impresses you most?” and they were able to select more than one answer.

  • 93% said Comes with thoughtful and insightful questions for me
  • 70% said Is respectful of my time
  • 66% said Describes their career and aspirations in a crisp and compelling way
  • 66% said Has researched me and my company
  • 55% said Has specific requests of me
  • 18% said Pays for coffee or tea

Some other prominent themes in the comments section were:

  • Reciprocity- paying attention to cues or opportunities to help other person
  • Gracious, appreciative- sends a thank you email and follow-up
  • Interest in real discussion, genuine connection, not just used for personal gain

Enhance your Questions

Instead Of Try
How long have you worked at X Company? What have been some of the most important changes in the industry/company you have noticed over the past few years?
Can you tell me the story of your career? I noticed you had a long career at X and then moved to Y just about 2 years ago. Can you share with me what brought you here?
Do you have any advice for me? What experience or traits have helped you most in your position/career?What is something you wish someone told you before getting into this line of work?
What are some current trends or hot topics in this field? I recently read a bit about X, I’m curious to hear your perspective on this?


7. What not to do…

We asked respondents to share their pet peeves about people who have tried to network with them. Here were the key themes:

  1. Not driving the conversation
  2. Wasting time, not having a specific purpose or “ask”
  3. Late or no-show
  4. Not sending a thank-you note or not following up as promised
  5. Not offering to pay for coffee
  6. Interrupting, not really listening
  7. Ask for a job outright (instead of trying to learn, share and connect)
  8. Feeling like there is a hidden agenda – not frank and transparent

To hear more about this research and Gaby’s advice on personal branding, check out her webinar here. 

This article was written by Gaby Fisch. Gaby Fisch is a trained coach and Director of Talent Development at the MaRS Discovery District, Canada’s largest innovation hub. She spent 12 years in the corporate sector before heading out to work independently as a career, entrepreneur, and executive coach. In 2014, Gaby joined the HR team at the Mars Discovery District, a role which perfectly blends her interests in HR, coaching, business, and social impact. 

Stay tuned for next week’s part 2 of this series.

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