Treat Every Networking Interaction Like a Job Interview

pay it forwardWhen you’ve had years of experience and developed a wide network of business colleagues and friends, you’re inevitably asked if you’d be willing to provide career advice to younger professionals who are building their careers.

We’ve certainly been happy to oblige. It’s called “paying it forward,” or responding to a kindness someone showed you by being kind to someone else.

Showing Your Respect

But the person on the receiving end of your advice has the responsibility of showing appreciation for the kindness. This may sound like an old-fashioned notion, but it’s not.

A friend and senior professional passed along this story of a lunch meeting she had with a young woman who didn’t understand that every networking interaction is like a job interview. She had met the young woman at an industry event and, upon learning she was new to the city, offered to introduce her to some people in her network. They arranged to meet for lunch.

My friend was dressed properly for this “business” meeting. But her lunch companion showed up in jeans, scuffed boots, no makeup and her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She didn’t appreciate that her informal attire was not appropriate to the occasion.

Its Driving Me Crazy!

Dress appropriately

Her appearance affected her attitude and the conversation, as she didn’t view the other woman as someone who could actually hire her. She opened up about her job difficulties and fear that her former employer wouldn’t give her a favorable reference. The information she shared cast her in a bad light.

She was looking for a new position but hadn’t updated her resume and wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do. In short, she hadn’t prepared for the meeting and it devalued her personal brand.

Her actions and appearance didn’t communicate the necessary gravitas that is essential in building executive presence.

Doing it the Right Way

On the other hand, I had an experience recently that demonstrated the right way to approach what career coaches call the “informational interview.” This is when an individual is looking for advice and referrals and not a job with your company.

A client asked if I would be willing to talk with her best friend who had just lost her agency job because her duties were outsourced. Of course, I was happy to.

In our conversation, she was very clear about what she wanted to do. She was polite and attentive to my advice. I had reviewed her resume and made several suggestions for how it could be improved.

She returned the resume to me the next day, incorporating my suggestions. Shortly thereafter, I received a lovely and well-written thank-you note from her.

It didn’t surprise me when I learned that she was offered a new job less than 30 days of leaving her old one. Once again, she sent me a note thanking me for my advice.

Too often, young professionals have tunnel vision about the generations that came before them. They are stuck in the informal “me” world they grew up in and aren’t tuned into a more senior person’s point of view.

To get ahead, it’s essential to understand and adjust to the diversity of the business world: diversity of color, gender, age and geography.

If you see yourself described in this post, understand that not everyone shares your experiences and values. Take that into consideration in every encounter you have within your own organization, or when meeting someone who could potentially help you reach your career goals.

Show the proper respect when you’re on the receiving end of someone “paying it forward.”

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