Networking calls/coffee chats are tricky. You should not be following the advice found for general recruitment. We insist our clients network with partners so most of the advice we provide is for networking with McKinsey and BCG partners. The reality is that partners are best equipped, and most influential, to assess a unique profile and make a judgement call on the spot. The danger is that if you do not impress the partner, you are very unlikely to go anywhere with further networking. The more atypical your profile, though, the greater the need to network with a partner, and the benefits far outweigh the risks.

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5 responses to How to hold networking conversations

  1. Hi Anit, I am responding to both your recent comments here. You are correct in both regards. However, I would pay extreme attention to the execution. Tone, language, choice of phrases, pauses all help convey that sincerity. So sincerity is a combination of what you say and how you deliver it. The ear can detect any cynicism or criticism pretty fast. I would say most students do not even know when they are being cynical. So, choice of words is really, really, really important. In some ways, to use an analogy, we are merely discussing a driving manual here. You still need to actually get out and drive and that is an entirely different ball game.

    The problem with background research is it really only helps you in the first 2 minutes of a call/meeting. After that, you have to be pretty smooth at maintaining a pleasant conversation. That is really hard for many candidates, since they only know how to ask questions. In other words, planning is not going to help much unless you have the core skills to be flexible in a conversation. Because the plan changes pretty quickly.

    The other issue is people tend to want to be too smart. They write and speak in an awkward way to convey their supposed intelligence. I tell people I want “baby talk.” Explain something to me the way it would be explained to a 5 year old. I will appreciate that – as would anyone else.

    I do about 16 to 25 calls a day and I think I am immediately drawn to someone who is sincere, not trying to hard, open-minded and respectful. That last one is very, very rare. Too many applicants are not respectful.

    You should listen to this podcast with a client:

    Communication is all about psychology: people want to be with other people who make them feel good, or have a lot of money!


  2. Re: 1.

    Your background research would allow you to target your initial questions closer to the mark of “what will this person really want to talk about,” making it easier to lead the conversation in that direction.

  3. While there is only one underlying objective (getting someone to like you), the networking interaction forces you to frame that within the pretext of wanting to learn something.

    I feel like unless you honestly believe in the pretext (e.g. I’d like to learn more about the Houston Office), it is hard to be sincere, which hurts your ability to get the other person to like you.

    Given that, I’d appreciate your thoughts on the following approach.

    Suppose one aimed for guiding the conversation towards the aspect of work/office/etc. the other person really wants to talk about.
    1: Learning about what the other person wants to talk about should give you insight into the culture of a firm and office.
    2: Being interested in what s/he enjoys talking about seems like a good way to get someone to like you.

    If I truly believe #1, being genuine for #2 should be easy.

  4. Anit, thanks for this. Networking is a difficult to do well since there is so much conflicting advice out there! If you listen to the further podcasts on networking, we explain there is only one objective: to make the other person like you. You should listen to Edwards podcast in the “Clients” section for more on how this is done. It is very similar to dating. Trying to be smart, obtain information etc are all the WRONG objectives of networking. Hope that helps, and I agree, this is a learning process. Michael

  5. The idea of “building off of what the other person says” seems obvious once you articulate it. It nearly quotes the dictionary definition of a “conversation.”

    Yet it is clearly unintuitive for most of us beginning to network for the first time.

    I would suspect that the root-cause of this is because a “networking conversation” actually is a fusion of two activities that we normally engage in separately:
    1: getting to know someone
    2: trying to learn certain things from someone

    In normal contexts, I begin to “get to know someone” at a party, or over a group lunch or such, but it is clear that there is no “learning” objective.

    Conversely, if I need to “learn certain things from someone”, I will probably ask a friend with whom I have already built a relationship. Thus, because that relationship is already built, I can dramatically deprioritize the “relationship building” part of that interaction.

    The fact that these two activities so often happen independently of one another probably drives the lack of an intuitive sense of how to handle a networking conversation, in which we must execute both simultaneously.

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