Early on, I developed a distaste for what I thought was networking. I loathed reciting my pitch and selling my product (or myself). I thought networking meant rote memorization, making deals, and sucking up. It all seemed exhausting and unpleasant.
Luckily for me, I was misinformed. Instead of a means to a selfish end, networking is a mutually beneficial way of approaching professional relationships.
The more I read about successful networking techniques, the easier and more pleasurable the process becomes. Here are some takeaways from Steve Dalton's TIARA Framework, outlined in his book, "The 2-Hour Job Search."
The Informational Interview
The TIARA framework is a suggested protocol for what Dalton calls "informational interviews" or "informationals." “The purpose of the informational interview is to both form a rapport and gain usable information” (165).
“The TIARA Framework… breaks the informational interview into three distinct phases: (1) small talk, (2) questions and answers, and (3) next steps” (165).
The framework is rooted in the Ben Franklin Effect, which suggests that "Allowing someone to do you a favor is an incredibly powerful way to gain her loyalty”(167).
“In an informational interview, you are asking someone for a small favor of time and information. By not returning this favor immediately (as Ben Franklin pointedly refrained from doing), you increase the amount your contact likes you, as well as the likelihood he will help you again in the future!” (167).
1. Good Small Talk
- Take a genuine interest in the other person.
- Give the person a chance to talk about whatever he or she wants to talk about—especially initially.
- “Follow the energy.” If your contact becomes more energetic in response to a questions, stay with it for a follow-up question or two. If not, just move on to the next one.
- Mirror the topics and demeanor of your contact. If they are casual, be casual, too. If they talk about hobbies, mention your own.
- How is your day going so far? (opportunity to assess demeanor, demonstrate listening)
- What projects are you working on right now? (opportunity to gauge passion, demonstrate interest in the type of work)
- Can you tell me about your background and how you can to work for your employer? (opportunity to assess demeanor, demonstrate personal/professional interest)
“Whether it’s bonding over rescue dogs, being raised in a large family, or the Chicago Cubs’ awful odds of winning the World Series yet again this year, follow the energy” (170).
“This algorithm for small talk is not foolproof, but it gives those of us to whom small talk does not come naturally a structure for systematically attempting to break the ice and establish rapport!” (170).
2. Questions and Answers
This section is where the TIARA Framework gets its name. TIARA stands for:
“Knowing what questions to ask and the preferred order will dramatically improve your ability to turn informationals into job interviews. Furthermore, knowing you know that information will greatly reduce your anxiety about this step of the process” (171).
The order avoids abruptness and presumption: “In short, the job-seeker’s request is too abrupt. He’s made only a cursory attempt to get to know you, so you in turn are likely to make only a cursory attempt to help him” (173).
“Just as you wouldn’t trust someone offering to buy your car sight unseen, you certainly wouldn’t trust a job seeker who asks for your advice without kicking your tires first!” (174).
“Your contact, if treated properly, may offer you assistance without helping you find a job, but that is her prerogative and shouldn’t be requested (at least not in this conversation, anyway)” (174).
“The ideal questions for TIARA are ones that allow the contact to talk about whatever he wants to talk about. These are open-ended questions that engage the contact creatively, and they’re generic enough to be durable over multiple conversations" (174).
- What trends are impacting your business right now?
“It’s much more fun as an interview subject to discuss what trends you think are most impacting your business than it is to describe the corporate culture. People enjoy talking about themselves more than they enjoy talking about their employers” (176).
- What surprises you most about your job/your employer?
- What’s the best lesson you’ve learned on the job?
- What’s been your most valuable experience at your employer so far, and why?
- If you had to attribute your success at your employer to one skill or trait, what would it be? Follow-up: Is that trait shared by many across the firm, or is it unique and you’ve adapted it to your advantage?
“Insight questions are very similar to Trend questions, but they start to become slightly more personal, rather than strictly business-related. We want the contact to gradually become more comfortable disclosing personal information to us, and that starts with getting him to share his personal feelings” (177).
“These answers [to Insight questions] are also useful during future interviews, both informationals and job interviews…the ability to source information is incredibly powerful for establishing credibility” (178).
- What can I be doing right now to prepare myself for a career in this field?
- If I got hired, what should I be sure to do within the first 30 days to ensure I get off to the fastest start possible?
- What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were my age or in my position?
- If you were me, what would you be doing right now to maximize your chance of breaking into this industry or function?
“Mentors take a long-term interest in the welfare of their mentees, whereas experts may feel their work is ‘done’ once they’ve imparted their wisdom to you. The onus is on the job seeker to convert the expert into a mentor, because advocates’ benefits are not usually imparted immediately” (180).
“In this part of the conversation, we are actively trying to get our contacts to put themselves in our shoes, convincing them to give us not just vague advice for what we should do next, but the actual steps they would take if they were in our position right now” (180).
“The biggest mistake job seekers make in the informational interview process is thinking that the conversation is about themselves, when it is really about the contact" (180).
“The ideal outcome of an informational is that your contact begins to view your job search success (or lack thereof) as a reflection of her own ability to give good guidance and/or be a good mentor” (180).
- What resources should I be sure to look into next?
- What next steps would you recommend for someone in my situation?
“Resource questions are designed to elicit where your contacts go when they need or want information about their industry, function, or business. These can be people, places, or things” (182).
“Regardless of how long Trends, Insights, and Advice questions occupy your informational interview, it is essential that you make it to the pivot question [Resources question] before the conversation ends. This question is what allows you to determine how to wrap up the conversation” (182).
If that resource is a person, you've hit the jackpot. Your contact is likely a booster, more willing to help you than the average contact. When a referral is offered, commit and schedule follow-up. “Boosters will usually be willing to do more for you than you yourself would ask, so it is better to defer to their expertise for how to proceed if Wendy [their contact] is unavailable, rather than ask them for a specific action—like to check in with her on your behalf” (185).
“Boosters may want to offer you a contact but feel similarly protective of their network, given that they’ve known these people far longer than they’ve known you. If your contact doesn’t offer you a referral contact immediately, don’t ask for one—this gives you a second chance to ask for one later” (187).
“So what do I do in the ‘non-jackpot scenario,’ when my interview asks me specifically what kind of resources I’m looking for? You deflect the conversation toward nonhuman resources” like websites, books, or magazines. (186).
- What project(s) have you done that you felt added the most value?
- Have any projects increased in popularity recently at your organization?
- Have you had interns or contractors in the past? If so, what sort of projects have they done?
“The answers you get will help you build your mental toolbox of the types of projects that are increasingly in demand and importance at your targeted employers” (189).
“It’s much easier to critique someone else’s ideas than it is to create them from scratch, so relieve your potential employer of that burden by instead suggesting roles for yourself and engaging the employer in why or why not such a role may be feasible. This increases their likelihood of coming up with alternative, which are far easier to brainstorm than entirely new ideas” (189).
3. Next Steps
If you don’t get the contact you are looking for, make a small, low-risk request for more of their time.
“That is how you get Obligates who agree to give you an informational interview to help you. You leverage their fear of awkwardness and bad manners to get them to make a tiny initial commitment, even if they don’t really want to. Once they do that, they have further obligated themselves to be available in the future if you decide this is something you want to pursue” (193).
“Go into every informational interview assuming it’s going to be a two-part informational—with follow-up required to get a useful contact. If you ask for a contact during an initial informational and fail to get one, you’ve hit a dead end with that contact—it’s awful to lose a Booster simply because you put the person on the spot” (194).
Always thank them for their time and insights and send a follow-up note.