Keith Sims, President of Integrity Resource Management, a Sanford Rose affiliate

One of the secret weapons to building your personal network is by leveraging the interview process.
Interviewing is a great way to have one on one time with senior level players in your industry and to get introduced to new contacts.  To do this properly you have to master interviewing.  Here are some simple first steps.

Make a good impression. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that the interview is your opportunity to connect with a potential employer and an industry insider.  Industry leaders want to surround themselves with people who can make them more successful.  In this case it’s more important to be perceived as inquisitive, thoughtful, and informed, than to be seen as someone who knows all the answers.  Preparation for the interview is always important, but is even more so if you are looking for a post interview relationship or a referral to one of their industry contacts.

Know the interviewer, the company, and their industry.

Interviews are not pop quizzes.  Most of what you need to prepare for an interview is public knowledge in press releases, industry blogs, and on LinkedIN.  Plan and spend several hours investigating and making a plan for the interview.  What stories do you want to share about your experience, what excites you about their organization, what excites you about the interviewer’s background.

Plan and ask questions that show your market insight. Take the time to ask specific business questions about how changes in the market are impacting their business and be prepared to discuss actions you have taken to address those challenges in your current and past roles.  If you are going to add value to the relationship you have to be seen as a peer and/or a rising industry thought leader.

Interview up.  If you were in their shoes, why would you want you as part of the team?  How would you make that decision?  The answer lies in what value you can provide.  Think through the challenges that your interviewer is facing and how their success or failure will be measured.  Adding value is helping the person you are interviewing with solve problems so they look good and earn their bonus or their next promotion.  The higher you go in your career, the fewer peers you have.  Even if they don’t hire you, they will remember someone that made them think differently or offered insight that was not widely known.

Follow up. After the interview, be sure to send a thank-you note to the interviewer. Ask if it’s OK to stay in touch.  This is another opportunity to make a good impression and to reiterate your interest in the position, but also to solidify the expansion of your network. When you contact them after the interview, be sure to provide industry insight that may not be obvious, share a blog, or article, that relates to the conversation you had or a current industry trend. Keep following up, keep reaching out, keep the connection fresh by scheduling a message every 2-4 weeks.  After 6 months, reach out and ask for their insight on some challenge you are facing that they have the expertise to provide insight back to you.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Overstating your expertise.  It’s ok to say you don’t know!
  • Not following through by initiating contact or sticking to it (may take up to a year to solidify this expansion of your network) and not maintaining the relationship
  • NOT asking for permission to connect.
  • Not appreciating the workload and availability of the contact.  Just because they WANT to meet with you, does not mean they have the time to meet.

These simple techniques can have you not only nailing interviews, but constantly growing and evolving your personal network.  Networking and interviewing should be a constant part of your career growth plan.