What do you do if your networking contact list is zero?

By: Robert F. Priddy,

Most physicians I speak with tell me they don’t know many people outside the doctor’s lounge. And let’s face it, do you really want your colleagues to know you’re looking for a nonclinical job? No, you don’t.

When I discuss contacts with clients, I always speak of three distinct groups:

  1. People You Know
  2. People You Want to Know
  3. People I Know

I listed them in that order because People You Know are the people most likely interested and willing to help you. They are a good place to start. And, within People You Know, you will want to group them in terms of just how close you are to them. Beginning your networking with the closest is the safest bet. They should be people with whom you can make a mistake, for example, flubbing your stump speech, and comfortably return later asking to correct it.

People You Want to Know are usually people higher up the food chain relative the the career transition you wish. These may be people in your industry of choice or simply well connected people of influence. Or, they may be people with a tangential relationship to your ultimate goal. Regardless, they are not people you know; therefore, you must seek ways and means to engage them.

Lastly are People I Know, and many clients have benefited from the strength of my contact list – but it’s no guarantee. As I tell clients, my contacts must stand to gain equally from a meeting with you. Otherwise, my contact list will shrink considerably, and become of no value to anyone, including me.

However, in this article I want to focus on the People You Want to Know. Over the years, more clients have benefited by meeting those People They Want to Know, than any other group. But, meeting these people can appear to be a considerable challenge. After all, how do you manage a meeting with an industry vice president, or a noted published authority?

One avenue I’ve found of particular value is seminars, conferences and organizational meetings. Collectively, these events usually bring together industry executives, thought leaders, consultants and vendors. That’s the target list for People You Want to know!

However, you can’t expect to just show up and engage all the right people. I coach clients planning to attend these events to:

  1. Review the speakers list for people you want to speak with.
  2. Review the vendor list for companies in which you have an interest.
  3. Scan the attendees list, if available, for people or companies you would like to contact.
  4. And lastly, look over the planned activities and events for any that may afford you a chance to connect more casually.

These are some rules I follow with these four target scenarios.

Regarding speakers, I always advise not trying to corner them at the event. Everyone wants to speak with speakers, and if you’ve been a speaker yourself, you know you have your own agenda. My advice is to simply attend their presentation (sit in the front row and make positive eye contact if possible) and at the end give them a business card and ask if you may contact them next week. Here’s how. Most speakers are surrounded by a crowd at the end of their presentations with way too many questions being asked. You can stand out by being the person who says, “You’re obviously overwhelmed here, would it be ok if I contacted you next week. I’d like to follow up on some of your comments.” Give them your card with the notation on the front or back, I’ll call next week, and ask for theirs.

Two stories come to mind instantly when I think of this. One client attended such an event and returned home with more than 20 viable new contacts that resulted in both presentations and proposals. Another was actually asked on the spot to join a Scientific Advisory Board. The strategy works.

Second, vendors rarely expect to sell anything at conferences – I know, I used to be one. At best most people make small talk while they slip an extra coffee mug into their goodie bag. If you show some interest, ask some probing questions, and ask who they would recommend you speak with in the company to learn more about your area of interest, you can very likely get a referral that allows you to meet your preferred contact via a “warm” introduction from the marketing staff. Also, never even carry a goodie bag.

Some events will publish an attendee registry. Look it over, and reach out to a few key contacts before the event. Ask if you might have the opportunity to meet. People go to conferences expecting, even wanting, to meet new people. You’re not imposing. If you’ve crafted a solid Stump Speech, they will welcome the opportunity to speak with you.

If you’re a runner, enter the 5K run, golfers, golf, etc… Social activities can be the best place to start a dialogue with a new contact. It’s far easier to talk about running than careers, and that running contact may open more doors for you than your resume.

Even if you’re introverted, you can manage some of these contact/networking methods. Handing a speaker a business card is easier than starting a conversation with 25 other people gathered around you. Vendors are the easiest people to talk to because they will do all the heavy lifting in the conversation. If an attendee list is published, your introduction can be by email. And if you’re a runner, let your shoes speak for you and the conversation will come naturally.

Further, conferences give you the opportunity to learn various points of view from respected experts, and should help you better define your fit in your newly chosen industry.