In my job search post for Purple Clover, I cover 5 things you should ask for in a networking conversation besides a job:
Your friend does not know if there is a relevant job for you that is hiring right now. S/he doesn’t know every single job opening within the company or its competitors. Therefore, even if s/he wants to help you, if s/he thinks you are asking about open jobs, sh/e won’t accept your meeting invitation. S/he thinks s/he’s doing you a favor by not “wasting your time” and will wait until there is a relevant job for you that is hiring right now. But we’ve just established that s/he doesn’t always know about jobs, so you will get very few meetings.
Furthermore, what s/he thinks is relevant — of interest, matching your skills, meeting your needs — is probably not accurate. S/he knows you from a specific context — when you were junior, when you worked in a slightly different role, when you were a different person. Do you want to cede control of your job search to what your contacts think you want?
You always want to get a meeting, whether there is an open job or not. This way, you can manage the conversation to get the information you know is relevant for you and your search. So you have to make your meeting request about something other than a current job opening. You also don’t want to make your request an open-ended fishing expedition for information because now you’re too broad. Instead, ask for a meeting to discuss just one or two particular items and assure your friend that you are not asking about job openings. Here are 5 things you might discuss:
Org charts. Many jobs aren’t posted or are advertised late, after a short list already exists. Once an opening is defined, the manager in the department with the need typically asks around for referrals before telling HR or conducting an all-out job search (why do all the work if someone great comes your way?). You want to be one of those referrals. You want to hear about those jobs before they are posted or jobs that never get posted. You need to identify the decision-makers in the departments you want. This requires a very intimate understanding of the org chart — who does what for every department you may be interested in. If you want a marketing role, don’t ask your friend about open marketing jobs. Find out how marketing is structured overall. Find out what area does the type of marketing you want to do — consumer insights, branding, digital, research, etc. Find out who runs that area, how many people work there, who reports to whom — in other words, who does what. You can’t find this critical information in published sources, so networking meetings are your only source.
Personal preferences. Some hiring managers favor specific pedigrees (e.g., Ivy League education). Some only hire from direct competitors. Some hire those they hang out with. These preferences will not be in a job description, plus you’re trying to find open jobs before they’re advertised and therefore don’t have descriptions. Yet, understanding these personal preferences will greatly help you position your background to be noticed. You may not think to highlight the name of your undergraduate alma mater from 20+ years ago when you introduce yourself to the CMO, but when you realize she would care you went to a top school, you mention it and catch her attention. Different things resonate with different people, and you need all the nuanced information you can get about the decision-makers hiring for the roles you want.
Read three more things to ask for in a networking conversation at Purple Clover: Beating Around The Employment Bush.