Preparing for Networking Meetings and Interviews

By Mitch Wienick, President, Kelleher Associates

At Kelleher Associates, we view client networking meetings and interviews as the most critical interactions of the entire search process. Doing well at a hard earned networking meeting with an influential person can open doors and create connections that you would have never thought possible. Strong interview performances will likely lead to being in the small select set of favored candidates and, ultimately, the candidate of choice.

We believe it’s as important to prepare well for a networking meeting as it is for an interview.  Before having that meeting, you need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • How are you connected to the person with whom you’re meeting, how is your contact connected to this new contact, and how strong is that connection?
  • What are your objectives for the meeting? Do you want an introduction to someone; are you seeking industry or company information; do you want information from a subject matter expert; do you want to use your new contact as a sounding board or some combination of these and other objectives?
  • Where will you be meeting and how long will the meeting likely run?
  • How will you open the discussion to establish some chemistry and likeability?
  • How will you position yourself? What do you say to establish credibility?
  • What will you ask to elicit the information or connection you’re seeking?
  • What are you prepared to offer in return?
  • What are your next steps? What has your contact committed to doing?
  • How will you diplomatically follow-up?

When hiring decisions are made, the most critical part of the search process, is the interview. Interviews for recruiter led searches normally come in two flavors – recruiter interviews themselves and interviews with executives of the hiring firm. Both types of interviews need to be taken seriously.

These days recruiter interviews are of two types. The first interview type, often done by a “screener”, is typically designed to have the candidate for the role (our client) walk through their background and sometimes, though not always, review their compensation history. Search firms do this to try to ensure that potential candidates fit a range of criteria they’ve worked out with their client (the hiring organization) so as not to waste anyone’s time in the interview process if the candidate is “out of spec”.  The screener may seem to be using a script of questions when conducting this type of interview.

The second type of interview is usually much more substantive and gets into the range of experience, personal characteristics, and key accomplishments demonstrated by the candidate. The questions asked by the recruiter in this interview round are often similar to what a hiring company would normally ask, and are really designed to assess the degree of fit with the position description. It also helps the recruiter (who clearly wants to do well for his client) determine whether the candidate will be brought in for face-to-face interviews at the hiring company, an often time consuming and expensive proposition and a genuine reflection on the recruiter’s professional prowess.

We follow a series of steps in preparing clients for interviews. In real interview conditions, we complete a video-captured “mock” interview with clients who, depending on timing, is centered on one of their preferred current opportunities. We carefully evaluate what I like to call the “cosmetics” and the content of the client’s answers and questions. The “cosmetics” include making eye contact, smiling at appropriate junctures, nodding to show understanding, not staring at the ceiling, not waving hands in a way that’s distracting, keeping answers crisp and delivered with confidence, and being very mindful of the progress and pace of the interview in the time allotted to be sure there is an opportunity for clients to ask questions, as well.

Content of course has everything to do with our client’s ability to readily invoke critical skills, experience, talents and passions through well placed verbal stories which highlight key accomplishments that have substance, drama, and humor and are relevant to the challenges of the new position. At the same time, we want to be sure our clients are prepared to ask what we like to call “elevating” questions to which the client wants real answers, but also reveal deep preparation, penetrating insight, and a synthesis of the problems, opportunities and challenges faced by the organization and its executive team. It’s virtually axiomatic that a senior level candidate will be evaluated as much by what they ask as well as how they answer.

One of the tools we use with clients at Kelleher Associates to develop those verbal stories is what we call a SARs (Situation-Action-Result) exercise. The exercise consists of the client looking back at the last 10-12 years of his career and summarizing in writing the most significant 10 or more achievements that they either drove or with which they were associated. Invariably, we review these stories with clients. They are real stories with a beginning, middle, and end and they become essential ingredients for a successful interview. The act of writing the stories, analyzing them, and then sorting them by type gives our clients a powerful platform from which to talk about themselves in a persuasive and polished manner that genuinely differentiates them from other candidates.

We also strongly encourage our clients to do their homework on the people with whom they will be interviewing. What are their roles, what accomplishments are they known for, what are their reputations, how long have they been with the company, what do their career trajectories look like, where were they previously, are they quoted in the public domain, do they have LinkedIn profiles, are they active in professional or industry associations, and do they have a common acquaintance or an intersecting background with our client? Certainly, the more our clients know about each of their interviewers in advance of the interview, and the more commonality we can uncover, the better chance they have of putting this “intelligence” to work on their behalf.

We also ensure that our clients have done their homework on the company and its industry. We want our clients to be well versed in the following: What are the challenges, opportunities and problems facing the company, or the division, or the department? What forces are acting on the industry and what changes are they causing or likely to cause? What are themes of the company’s press releases over the last 12-18 months? What information is on the company’s website, and is the site well done and informative? What is being said on the internet about the company and the people with whom our client is interviewing?  If the company is public, what is being published in the annual report, what key pieces of information are in the company’s SEC filings (and filings with other regulatory agencies such as the FDA, FCC, or EPA), what are analysts writing about the company, are their presentations or analyses about the company or the industry on the internet?

If the client has a consumer facing or retail presence, we encourage the client to visit the store, or call the 800 number, or enroll as a customer, etc. to get a first-hand feel for what it’s like to interact with the company or one of its major functions.

Beyond “prebriefing” clients for their interviews, and customizing their preparation for each interview, we also invest a great deal of time debriefing clients after the interview. We want to know the following about each interview: what was asked and what was answered, was there apparent chemistry between our client and the interviewer, what questions may have caused  our clients to stumble, were there difficult or sticky questions for which  we didn’t prepare, what was the nature and substance of the responses to our client’s questions (and did our clients get a chance to ask them), what are the next steps in the process, and does our client have any obligation or commitment in coming out of the interview? We are also looking for any feedback our client receives from the executive recruiter if one is involved as well as references later in the process.

We always encourage our clients to send thank you notes on a timely basis (within a day or two of the interview), either by email or in hard copy, to everyone that has interviewed them. We generally want the thank you notes to be customized to each interviewer and include a “thank you” to the interviewer for taking the time, a reinforcement of the client’s interest and excitement in the position, a recap of the top 3-4 reasons why the client is a strong fit for the position, and, in some cases, an amplification on or a completely new answer to a tough question that arose during the interview.

In summary, at Kelleher Associates we clearly devote the time and attention to ensuring that our clients are prepared for key networking meetings and interviews and review in-depth their results from these encounters.