Networking is natural and easy when you start with people you know really well (your natural network) AND when you have a script!
Once you identify someone to contact, decide whether to contact them by e-mail or phone. E-mail is easiest, especially for busy people. A phone call is better for someone you know really well.
It’s important that you have a clear intention that you can explain to the person. Here’s a format that works:
I am looking for a job that allows me to play this role and use x skills, and where my work will contribute to this goal and impact.
When approaching someone you know fairly well, you can simply say “I’m exploring career options and wondered if you’d have 20 minutes to sit with me and give me some feedback and suggestions.”
Often, the person will start the conversation right there with the question “so what are you looking for?” At that point you can say something along the lines of your intention – or shorter! Follow that by saying “I can tell you more when we meet.”
If you’re lucky, your first few contacts may actually know of jobs! It doesn’t matter if they do, however.
Your goal should be to get referred to at least one person who might be able to help you. Ask “is there anyone you can think of who might be able to help me?” If they have to think about it, make sure you ask them about it in a follow up e-mail or letter.
The follow-up communication should thank them for taking the time to talk to you and say that their feedback [suggestions, referrals, etc.] was really valuable and you appreciate their help and support.
Here is a script for contacting the next person along the line:
“So and so recommended that I contact you regarding my job search. S/he thought you might have some great insight and advice to offer. Would it be possible for me to get 20 minutes of your time? I’m exploring the possibilities in the ________field, and would appreciate any advice and suggestions you might have. You can reach me by e-mail or at ###-###-####. I’ll contact you if I don’t hear from you. Thank you in advance! I look forward to meeting you.”
If you want to make the initial contact by phone, use the same script.
I suggest practicing the conversation before you make the call. It is incredibly helpful to rehearse so you get comfortable with what you are asking. Ask a friend to go through it with you two or three times so you role play your part and experience what it feels like to make the request.
It is rare for people to refuse to give you 20 minutes in person, and even rarer for them to refuse to give you 20 minutes over the phone. If they do refuse, it’s either because they have no time or they believe they have no advice to offer. In both cases, it’s about them – it’s definitely NOT about you. So thank them for their consideration and say good-bye. No burning of bridges is necessary. Who knows? You might run into them again in another context, and it can then be a pleasant introduction: “oh, I’m so glad to meet you! So and so has said such nice things about you.” And you might gain a new friend or colleague.