November 21, 2016
By Marc Barowsky, BioSpace.com Contributor
In my last column, I discussed how to coordinate a meeting or phone call when you are networking. In today’s post, I’ll give you tips on how to have that conversation.
I should preface my comments by saying that you can never predict exactly how any given discussion will go with a prospective employer, even when you may have had a very “warm introduction” or have spoken previously with an interviewer. If you are the one “looking for something” then the other person has the leverage (although at some future point those roles could be reversed; more about this in future posts).
I’ll also point that many people in the pharma and biotech sector have an unusually high sense of urgency or impatience when filling a job opening or networking. It is ubiquitous to the point that candidates, too, are acclimated to being exceptionally brief. This is a problem but a reality all the same. Which of course means time and attention are at a premium.
While there is much more to a networking discussion than the outline I’ve laid out, one still needs a starting point.
To be successful in your discussion, you need to understand the circumstances of it, as well as the moods, personality, distractions and speaking style of whomever you are talking to. As a rule of thumb you need to be prepared to speak, but anticipate being a listener for much of the time.
In most discussions, there is a kind of template I recommend. At a high level it is:
1. Appreciation and confirmation of the time
2. Identification of the time available to talk (you need to keep track of this))
3. Stated outline of purpose and “agenda” for discussion
4. A “launching” point to the dialogue
5. The discussion
6. Summation, appreciation of the other person’s time, “to do’s” or action items
7. The “What can I do for you?” question
A possible conversation illustrating a few of these steps might look like this:
Candidate: “Hello, Mr./Ms., how are you today? I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me. It’s very generous of you. Is this still a good time for us to meet/chat?
Employer: “Yes. You’re welcome. This time is fine, I’ve blocked it on my calendar. I can give you twenty minutes or so.”
Candidate: “Twenty minutes, that’s great. I’ll keep my eye on the clock. My hope is for us to chat and get to know each other. If we have time I’d like to learn about (state broadly your interest), but I’m interested in learning about you. I noticed you studied Rhetoric at the University of Kansas…what motivated you to study it? It seems like a unique academic discipline to take on.”
Employer: “Yes. Well my mother was a chemist but my father taught American Literature and Dialectics….
All of the above would take about two or three minutes to get into the discussion, and gives the source something to say that is revealing and out of the norm for “business talk.” It also signals the kick off of the conversation and hopefully puts the source at ease. At this point, you would then have about 17 or 18 minutes of core talk time. If your closing section takes two minutes that gives you a solid 15 or 16 minutes (in this example) of listening time.
After the initial answer, you have a built-in segue to “shift” to something you’re interested in that applies to the source. You might say: “So help me understand how you went from Rhetoric to (data management, quality control, accounting, etc.”). Another question you might want to ask might be “What brought you to ABC Biotech and what do you like about it?”
Keep in mind that the person you’re talking to might say something unpredictable that would be interesting to explore.
In closing a discussion you need to remain respectful and appreciative of the other person’s time. If the discussion is going well you might be able to ask for more time to talk; if not then you need to signal the conclusion and set the tone for future contact.
Candidate: “Well, I see we’re nearly at 20 minutes and I’d like to thank you again for your time. I have a couple of final questions…Would you mind if I reach out to you in the future if I have other questions? Do you know of anyone else who might be good for me to speak with? And, do you have any questions for me, or is there something I can do for you?”
It is critical that you never come across as selling anything or expecting anything inappropriate from the source. This is a cardinal rule of networking.
Of course there is more to effective networking than this, and many key nuances that can make a big difference in the degree of your success, all to be covered in future posts. But this can get you started.
Marc Barowsky is a business, consulting and recruiting professional based on the East Coast. He has over 20 years recruiting, sales and business development experience. His work has crossed multiple industries, including: Pharma, Biotech, Technology, as well as others. He has recruited professionals at many levels for companies of all sizes. He began his recruiting career at Russell Reynolds, a premier executive search firm and most recently was the Senior Director, Talent & Recruiting at Cytel, a biometrics CRO based in Cambridge, Mass.