It is important to lower the defensiveness that a weak or new connection may have when you first network with them at a coffee shop or similar situation. They know you want a job; they know they don’t have one to give, and that makes them feel awkward before you even meet. It’s important to get off on the right foot.
Once you’ve identified each other (another reason to have your photo on your LinkedIn profile), quickly introduce your situation. You want to accomplish five (5) things as quickly as possible:
- You want to thank them for agreeing to meet with you.
- You want to acknowledge the person who connected you.
- You want to relate your situation positively.
- You want tell them you’re not looking for job yet.
- You want to tell them what you do want, information – which they do have, which will help you in understanding the market for your skills.
Consider combining these in a fluid, rehearsed statement, such as the one below:
“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me. I know you’re busy so I’ll try to be as brief as I possible. [John] may have mentioned to you that I was recently let go from [former employer] as part of a reorganization and downsizing. I’m not actually looking for a job yet. I was given a good severance package, but I’m not set for life or anything. With that said, I’m comfortable enough for the near term, and want to make a good, long term decision for my next position. I spoke to a career counselor who suggested that I re-acquaint myself with the market for my skills before starting my job search in earnest. So that’s what I’m doing – and I hope you can help me with – just getting a better understanding of the current market for [my profession in my geographic area], essentially what potential employers are out there – who’s doing well, and who’s not – what’s up and coming that you’ve heard about. My career adviser called it a personal marketing plan, and that’s what I’m in the early stages of developing. It’s actually pretty interesting.”
Of course they want to help, or they wouldn’t be there. You’ve just relieved their defensiveness by telling them how they can help. The last line about it being interesting is important because it engages people’s curiosity. They will want to learn about what you’ve learned because we all have been, or could see ourselves being, where you are.