Attorneys are self-confident individuals. If only I had a dime for every time I heard... "If I can just get in the door, I'll blow their socks off."
In the last two columns, I covered how to make a conference-setting introduction and offered my best practices suggestions for follow-up. Since targets, a.k.a. decision-makers, have become expert time managers who are reluctant to create bandwith for new business relationships, these first two steps are truly the hardest. Congratulations on successfully securing a meeting! Best case scenario, the target now perceives you as potentially valuable. Worst case, you have at least cracked the "no" shell, the target has lowered her defenses (sorry, I just saw Star Trek), and she is willing to give you 20 minutes over coffee.
However, this is a pass or fail course. You only pass if the meeting yields a meaningful next step. In the context of a job search, that can mean a) securing a formal interview, b) getting some project work to provide value and prove yourself in the absence of a job opening or c) receiving a referral to an opportunity elsewhere. By listening well, you will learn early in the sit-down if "a" or "b" is a near-term possibility. At the end of your meeting, seek the most realistic action step.
You will pass by truly connecting with the target. So, now we get to the heart of this column. Make the meeting all about the target and her company, and not at all about you. That's how you really "blow their socks off." Ask Ms. Big what business challenge interrupts her sleep at 3 a.m. What does she enjoy most about her company? What could save her time? How does she measure success?
Please resist the urge to say "hire me," or any variation thereof, as a solution to the target's challenges. She knows why you are there. The elegant way to succeed in this environment is to demonstrate two great lawyer qualities--discernment and empathy. As the target opens up based on your client focused line of questions, try responding with comments that begin like this: "I appreciate the corporate politics involved in that," and offer an example of how you can relate to her challenges. Or, "Interesting, thank you for sharing that with me," followed by "have you considered xyz?"
But be careful, the "have you considered xyz" part is risky and should only be used if you actually have something useful to say. If in doubt, "thank you for sharing" is powerful enough on its own.
Of course, the target will politely ask about you before her coffee cup is empty. Understanding the difference between an informational meeting and a formal job interview is critical here. Interviewing is a competitive and structured process. Please check back here next month for my advice on interviewing. It may surprise you to learn that I advocate a far more self-promotional approach to interviewing.
In the coffee meeting context, use the "tell me about you" opportunity to build rapport. Talk about family or personal interests immediately. Avoid a resume recitation. Your goal is to establish a connection. Be open, unguarded, and say something interesting. Most importantly, be yourself and crack a smile.
When you get good at this, you will rarely even need to ask for the next action step. Instead, the target herself will ask, "So, what can I do to help you?"