So you finally get around to sending 50 cold-emails and all of a sudden there are multiple people willing to talk with you.
If you’ve kept up with my emails (great job!), you know that cold emailing and networking is the secret sauce behind successful recruiting.
But once you schedule the call or coffee chat, it’s your job to make the conversation as smooth as possible.
Why is it important for the call to go well?
It doesn’t matter how many cold-emails you send or how many people you chat with. If you cannot build a relationship with the other person, they won’t help you.
These are the people who will give you rare and high-quality career advice, referrals, interviews, jobs/internships, and more.
This begs the question, how do you build relationships with strangers you cold-emailed?
Get them to like you and think you are smart.
It’s simple in theory, yet difficult to master. Get them to like you by showing an interest in their work and being enthusiastic; and showcase your intelligence by asking insightful and deep questions that require previous research.
Luckily, I put together a script for you based off my experiences from many informational interviews and chats (some of which were amazing, and others which failed miserably).
How should I prepare for the call/chat?
Do not walk into the chat without preparing — you will likely waste the professional’s time and annoy them. Always do your homework. Some things to brush up on before the chat are:
- Know the basics about the job/company to have a meaningful conversation
- You don’t want to spend their valuable time asking questions that were Google-able
- Use the resources such as company website, Google, Quora, Reddit, etc.
- Search for topics such as available job positions, job descriptions, interview process, company background, etc.
- Be up to date on the industry (when applicable)
- Skim the news to stay on top of any recent developments in the industry
- Dive deeper into industry blogs, LinkedIn posts, financial filings and look for industry trends/developments
- Do research on the professional you are talking with (more research for senior people)
- Take a look at their LinkedIn and get familiar with their career path
- See if you can find research papers or interviews by the professional and understand their main ideas and beliefs
- After understanding the job, company, industry, and professional you are speaking with, come up with a list of non-Googleable questions (tips on questions are in the script below)
- If you’re nervous, take a few moments to calm down before introducing yourself in-person or dialing their number. Remember, they are just another person who’s willing to talk with you. Especially for calls, it helps to have a written structure to loosely follow during the conversation. I recommend using my script below, or coming up with your own structure and questions through your research.
How to add value
When networking, you should always aspire to help the other person to the best of your abilities. This is called adding value.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out how to add value during a cold call or coffee chat. The main focus of the conversation should be to learn from their experiences, while showcasing your interest in their work. You usually won’t be aware of their needs — that being said here are a few ways I’ve been able to add value to professionals during chats:
- Tell them about what’s going on with competing firms
- I’ve found that many professionals at service-industry firms are curious to hear about recruiting timelines of competing firms. However, tred this one carefully because you are basically gossiping
- Ask if they need help finding candidates for other positions
- It is incredibly expensive for employers to hire just one stellar employee. You may be able to help out by forwarding job postings to your friends
- Simply offer to help in any way possible
- If you can’t think of how to help them, focus on having an engaging conversation then end the chat by offering your help as they see fit.
My script for navigating an informational chat
(0-2 mins) Intro About Yourself
Kick things off my thanking them for their time, explain why you reached out, and give a brief background on yourself. Things to discuss may include:
- Where you grew up and how that influenced you
- Your career path so far
- Any relevant interests, classes, or student organizations
- Your medium/long-term goals
Keep this concise, no more than a few minutes!
(2-4 mins) Transition Conversation to Them
Start off with higher-level questions, then get more granular as the conversation moves on. Some examples are:
- Ask about their career path
- How did they get to where they are
- What challenges did they face
- What makes for a successful person in their role
(4-14 mins) Ask About Their Work and Experience at The Company
This is the first meaty part of the conversation. Show your genuine interest in their work by asking very targeted questions (this is where preparation comes in handy). Again, if you could find the answer on Google, don’t waste time asking the question.
While there is no one-size-fits-all question to dig deep, here are a few examples from my experiences (these are intended to give you an idea):
- (Speaking with an ex-consultant working in the startup space) What was the transition from consulting to technology startups like? Did you find that your skills transferred over well?
- (Speaking with a consulting partner specialized in corporate turnarounds) What’s it like working with management teams who are under a lot of pressure to fix the company? Do they tend to be easy or difficult to work with?
The key is to ask well thought-out and open-ended questions.
Bad question: “Do you like the culture at your company?”
This is a weak question. It’s too vague and doesn’t prove to the professional that you’ve thought through the specific elements of culture you care about.
Good question: “It seems like you work with many different teams… would you say your company really values collaboration? Do people tend to work in teams or individually? How does that affect the pace of getting things done?”
These specific questions will give you nuggets of information that allow you to gauge the fit of a culture for yourself.
Bonus tip: If you proceed to interview with this company, they will inevitably ask “why do you want to work here”. Rather than stating some generic response that 95% of other candidates will say, it is much more effective to reuse the exact words and phrases from your chat about the culture or any other aspect of the job. Explain why these elements of the company are a great fit for you.
This works so well because it shows you did your research and thought critically about the company. It shows the granularity of your thought.
(14-24 mins) Engage in an Intellectual Conversation
If the conversation is going well, you can keep going with the last part of asking job/company questions. Alternatively, if you want to dig further, try asking a somewhat difficult/subjective question (just don’t be too try-hard about it).
The key is to have an opinion on the answer to your question and make sure the other person understands your perspective. Even if you are wrong, you want the professional to respect that you had an opinion in the first place (make sure you have a well-researched and reasonable opinion). This is a great time to bring up ideas from their research or interviews.
- Where do you think the industry is headed given [xyz]?
- I noticed you published research on [xyz], what are you thoughts on [abc]? It seems to me that… [proceed to state your opinion]
This is where it really pays off to be well-read. Stay on top of the current events and trends in your industry/function of interest.
(24-29 mins) Make the “Ask”
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that you don’t get what you don’t ask for. Come prepared with an idea of how this professional can help you and at the end of the call politely ask them.
There were multiple occasions where a professional started or ended the chat with “how can I help?“. It is important to have your ask ready — although I would delay asking until the end.
“This conversation really validated my interest in [this job]. I think it’s a great fit for me because of my interest/experience in [keep this very brief]. [Insert Ask]. Some examples of the ask:
- Get connected to someone else “it would be great to get another perspective on [xyz]. Is there anyone you could put me in touch with?”
- Inquire about a hidden internship/job opportunity “do you know of any opportunities at [your company] or [your team]?”
- Subtly ask for a referral/application bump “I just applied to the [job name] posting online. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of getting an interview?”
- Ask them about next-steps in the process “What are the next steps in the process to be considered for [this team/job]?”
Whatever it is, make the ask. Now here’s the secret to making this work. As soon as you finish making the ask, DO NOT SAY ANYTHING ELSE.
Yes, it’s awkward. But hang in there and wait. This puts the ball in their court to either accept your ask and immediately help you out, flat-out reject your ask (only happened to me once), or make up some wishy-washy answer that probably won’t help you.
Either way, you need to give them space to say something. You’ve worked hard sending those cold emails and engaging in a great conversation –don’t let it go to waste.
An important note: these chats are best done when you don’t immediately need something (like a referral 2 weeks before the interviews start). Otherwise the chat will seem transactional and the other person won’t be invested in helping you. The goal is to build a genuine relationship with this person. In the future, I’ll discuss how you can keep in touch with professionals from successful chats.
(29-30 mins) Thank Them and Offer Your Help
End the call by thanking them for their time, and say “if there’s ever anything I can help you with, please reach out!” This is an easy way to add value.
Phew, done. You did it!
How do I know if a chat was successful?
There are 3 main ways to gauge if your chat was successful:
- Did it seem like the other person wanted to be there? Were they enthusiastic and energetic?
- How long did the call last? The goal is to keep the conversation going for at least 25-30 mins. Usually the longer the better — they have the power to end the call whenever they want. You don’t need to cut it short if it’s going well.
- Are they willing to help you with your ask? In my chats, ~60% immediately helped with my ask and ~40% gave some wishy-washy answer that usually didn’t help. Only 1 person flat-out rejected me. Needless to say, I knew that call didn’t go so well.
Remember, if they reject you it’s okay. Don’t let it hurt your moral — it’s just 1 chat with a stranger.
It may sound ridiculous, but this really is the secret to building your network in any company or industry you want. Once you do multiple chats, you’ll get more comfortable and start to develop your own style.
Each of these chats has the power to directly lead to an interview or job offer… even with the most competitive companies. I promise if you do this 5+ times, you’ll discover amazing opportunities that can alter the trajectory of your career.