If You’re Talking, You’re Interviewing: How to Network and Interview Effectively

Posted by Nancy Gober

Networking is interviewing, and interviewing is networking. When you’re doing one, simultaneously you’re doing the other!

In fact, you really can’t separate these two activities: A networking session is, in fact, an informal interview and could very well lead to a formal interview – that’s the intent! And, vice versa, as you interview, you build your network. Your interviewer(s) now becomes a contact in your network – regardless of whether or not you get the job…that job.

What Is Networking

Networking, like some other job search terminology, while a familiar concept, is not always well understood. Just meeting and talking is NOT necessarily networking. For networking to occur, an information exchange that moves the action forward must occur. Otherwise, it’s just a chat!

For effective networkers, these information exchanges are not random. They are anticipated, planned-for exchanges of information. And remember, networking is a two-way street. Whether now or at a later time, finding a way to repay your contact (via being helpful to them in some way) is what networking is all about!

Networking can occur in a number of settings, and in today’s world, that is as likely to be an online information exchange as well as a face-to-face meeting. So whether occurring in large meetings, such as a conference, or small meeting formats such as one-to-one sit-down meetings, substantive phone calls, and even email exchanges, the key is the exchange of information of substance. All venues, when managed well, can be highly productive. Here are some tips for managing a good information exchange in small or large venues.

Networking at Large Meetings

Large professional venues can include conferences, association meetings, training workshops, courses, presentations, product demonstrations, seminars, webinars, etc. Large non-professional gatherings, such as family reunions, parties, or sporting events can be just as productive. All offer you the prospect of meeting your next employer, or someone who can put you in touch with them.

How well you exchange information is the key! So, plan ahead. Prepare in advance to network. (1) First, research the meeting/event and who will be attending. Learn a little in advance about key attendees you want to meet. (2) Strategize how you’ll “work the room” and plan what you’ll say. Set a goal for how many interactions you want to have. (3) Third, follow up.

Networking in Small One-to-One Meetings

Some folks are more anxious about networking in small meeting settings. Sitting down face-to-face to discuss your job search goal as well as probe your contact’s knowledge can feel intimidating. Think of it this way, all we’re really talking about is a conversation – a conversation between you and a member of your network. Feels more comfortable already, doesn’t it?

The key to managing an effective conversation (this includes substantive email exchanges and video conferences) is having a plan for starting and conducting this meeting/information exchange, as follows:

  1. Start your meeting by clarifying your objective for this meeting after a brief exchange of pleasantries. This sets things off on the right course to accomplish your purpose.
  2. Say (write) your Elevator Speech. This begins to cement in your contact’s mind “how to think about you” when he or she spots a lead or opportunity.
  3. Ask pertinent questions.Ask about your contact’s knowledge of good (1) companies and organizations, (2) people, and (3) professional associations that they are aware of and that might be beneficial for you to look into/meet.
  4. Actively listen to their responses. Take notes.
  5. Thank your contact. And, by the way…In an in-person meeting, buy the coffee.

If You’re Talking, You’re Interviewing

When you’re looking for a job, if you’re talking, you’re interviewing! Keeping this concept in mind will keep you safe.

Job seekers generally put their best foot forward when formally interviewing with a company or organization. For the most part, they keep their comments focused and their commentary directed toward their goal. However, these same people often let their guard down when talking with friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and in chance encounters with strangers. It’s a mistake.

As the old adage goes: “Loose lips sink ships!” Keep the following three tipsin mind as you meet and greet people during your search:

  • Be cautious. This is not the time for tell all-conversations with strangers. You never know who knows who!
  • Be strategic about what you reveal about your current situation as it applies to the type of work you are seeking. Skip the negative comments about previous employers, folks who are of no use or have been of little help, and your employment status.
  • Be prepared. Develop a sales mindset and carry your marketing tools with you. Chance encounters as well as planned meetings can generate results.

Treat every conversation during your job search, and the information you reveal, as if it’s an “informal interview” and could lead to a “formal interview” with a prospective employer.

And remember, first impressions count! A First Impression…Is a Lasting Impression…If Not a Last Impression.

What an Interview IS and ISN’T

Interviewing is another job-seeking activity dreaded by many. Job seekers go into the interview expecting it to be terrible, and voila, it is! They prove themselves right. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Interviewing can actually become a positive and fulfilling experience once job seekers recognize that their negative expectations are more often than not simply due to a lack of understanding of what interviewing is and isn’t.

To gain a better understanding of interviewing, understand that:

  • Interviewing is an Art – Not a Science. No one can give you a formula guaranteed to provide a certain outcome. Why? Because there are too many factors outside of your control, not to mention the challenges of controlling your own expectations, research ability, and fears and other emotions. But with a knowledge of what interviewing IS and ISN’T, job seekers’ comfort level rises, and their interviews improve.
  • An Interview is NOT a Confrontation. I recall hearing an inexperienced job seeker comment: “Interviewing is a confrontation. Right?” Wrong! An interview should not be a confrontation, a round of 20 Questions, nor a “tell all” on the part of the job seeker.
  • An Interview is a Conversation. Simply put, an interview is a conversation in which an informational exchange occurs between an employer and a job seeker who try to learn enough about each other in order to determine if there is a match! The employer seeks to determine if the job seeker is the right candidate for the job. Conversely, the job seeker seeks to find out if the job is right for them – a point often missed! Think of interviewing as matchmaking – only if the match is a good fit for both parties does it have the potential for real success. That’s the goal!

The Four Stages of an Interview

Interviews typically occur in four stages. Plan and prepare for each stage so that you can move smoothly through your interview and close your sale.

Stage 1: The Schmooze – Small Talk Counts

You say hello, and rapport is, or is not, developed. Handshakes count. Eye contact counts. And, small talk counts as you work toward developing a rapport and forming a positive connection and impression with your interviewer(s).

Stage 2: The Opening – The Interview Begins

You can feel the conversation shift away from small-talking, as the interviewer begins to talk about the company. More often than not, the interviewer asks the “ice breaker” question here: “So why don’t you tell me about yourself?” The best answer is your elevator speech. Learn it well so that you can adapt it to fit the situation.

Stage 3: The Q & A

Interviewers have various styles and strategies for questioning candidates. Some ask straight-forward factual or traditional questions; others ask behavioral questions; some use a combination of the two styles. Review the accomplishment statements you have listed on your resume and practice telling the story behind them aloud.

Stage 4: The Close – Sell Yourself

There are two closes to the interview: The interviewer’s and yours – although most interviews have only close…that of the interviewer. Always close your sale at the end of an interview using these four steps:

  1. Thank the interviewer(s).
  2. State why you are a good fit for the position.
  3. Enthusiastically express your interest in the position and moving to the next step.
  4. Find out what the next step is! If you don’t, you’ll spend the next several days or weeks waiting anxiously by the phone. Then, close your sale again…this time in writing.

A Word About Interview Questions

There are two major types of interview questions that you can expect to be asked: Traditional and Behavioral. Understanding and being able to handle both types of questions is critical to your success.

Traditional Questions are straight forward and focus on facts and figures. These questions probe what you’ve done, how you look at things, your attitudes, and how you see yourself. To answer these, have facts and figures about your previous jobs at the ready!

Behavioral Questions focus on the behavior and skills the candidate claims to have used to accomplish the duties and goals of their previous jobs. These questions seek to uncover how an interviewee actually acts in specific employment-related situations. Your best response in answering a Behavioral Question is to tell a story using your accomplishment statements.

Keep in mind that any question that’s on the interviewer’s mind can be asked in either a Traditional or Behavioral style. And if you’ve ever browsed the careers section of a bookstore, you know there are literally hundreds of volumes on the topic of interviewing, listing 1000s of possible interview questions. What’s a job seeker to do? Memorize 1000 answers? Actually, there’s a better way. The solution is to understand this concept: Underlying the myriad of questions, there are really only six basic areas about which you’ll be questioned.

Interviewers probe these areas to learn about candidates for their job in order to make the best hiring decision. Here are six things that interviewers’ questions are aimed at finding out:

  1. Can you do the job? (Technical know-how)
  2. Do you have the knowledge required to do the job? (Education, Training, Experience)
  3. Do you possess the strengths needed to do the job?
  4. Do you have weaknesses that could prevent you from doing the job or doing well?
  5. Can you work with people in the way their organization’s culture deems correct to get work done?
  6. Do you fit the firm’s organizational culture?  (Don’t underestimate this one!)   

Preparation is the key! Do your homework. Prepare a foundation of facts and work examples (accomplishments) that illustrate your strong performance and abilities in each of the six categories as well as examples of you overcoming areas of weakness.

Interviewing is a Two-Way Street

Two hiring decisions will be made following the interview: The employer’s and the job seeker’s. Job seekers readily recognize that the employer will make a hiring decision, but often fail to recognize that they need to make this decision: “Is this the right job for them?” To make a good decision, ask yourself the same six questions:

  1.    Can I do the job?
  2.    Do I have the knowledge to do the job?
  3.    Do I have the strengths needed to do the job?
  4.    Do I have weaknesses that will prevent me from doing the job or from doing it well?
  5.    Can I work with people in the way their organization’s culture deems correct to get work done?
  6.    Do I fit the hiring firm’s organizational culture?

Remember, any job WON’T do. If your goal is a good match between the needs and requirements of the company and your own, probing the six areas listed above will be a good indicator if this opportunity is a good one for you.

Interview Formats

Finally, recognize that companies and organizations choose to use different formats for their interviews based largely on the success they have had in using that format(s) to find candidates who turned out to be a good fit for their organization. Prior to an interview, ask questions of how the interview will be handled so you’ll know what to expect.

Some firms prefer largely to interview candidates using a Traditional Interview format. In this type of interview, a candidate for a position meets one-on-one with an interviewer. Other firms prefer Panel Interview formats when a candidate faces a panel of interviewers – it saves time.

Note too that with today’s global workforce, interviews are frequently conducted by Telephone or Virtually since it is often difficult to arrange in-person on-site interviews with candidates who are located across the country or around the world.

Remember that whatever the type of question or interview format, take the time to prepare carefully. Come prepared to discuss your excellent qualities that led to past success, and most importantly, how you anticipate your work in this new organization will contribute to its success!

The tips covered here regarding networking and interviewing are the third step in a four step process. If you missed steps 1-2, get caught up below. And stay tuned for the final step, negotiation.

Step 1. Planning and Strategy

Step 2. Marketing Your Skills

Step 3. Networking and Interviewing

Step 4. Negotiation (coming soon)


  • Nancy Gober

    Nancy Gober is a career strategist who has helped thousands of job seekers find employment, and the author of “Jobs Are Not Found Sitting at the Computer.” You may reach Nancy via email at [email protected].

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This entry was posted on Monday, May 15, 2023 2:08 pm

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