Call the people on your contact list to set up meetings with them. Emailing or, god forbid texting them is a poor, impersonal substitute. Face time with your contact is the ideal and is far more effective than anything else.
Assure your contact that you are not asking him or her for a job. Rather, you only want to pick their brains for information and referrals to other people who might be able to help you.
Good listening skills are as important in networking as proactive communication skills. Networking is at least as much listening as talking. Don’t come on too strong. “Networking etiquette” requires that you restrain yourself and not go overboard, waste your contact’s time with irrelevant anecdotes or going off on tangents, be disrespectful in any way, or come across as glum, intimidated, bitter, or otherwise negative in any way.
Treat a networking meeting as you would a job interview. Dress and groom yourself appropriately – forget about “business casual” and “dress-down” days. Make sure that you look and behave your best when in front of your contact. Like an interviewer, your contact is assessing the “cut-of-your-jib.”
The goal of any meeting with a networking contact is to make your contact feel enthusiastic about you and your job hunt. If you whine, complain, blame others for your plight, etc., your contact’s impression of you will be negative.
Come into the meeting fully prepared. You can dig out “macro” information about various industries, employment sectors, and specific employers through your own research, which you should do before you meet with anyone. What you want to discover from a contact is solid intelligence about organizational hiring plans, individuals who might be retiring or otherwise departing from firms, new corporate initiatives that might generate a suitable position, etc. In other words, “employer intelligence.”
You are also there to learn. Prepare list of questions beforehand. Open-ended questions that give contacts the opportunity to talk about themselves, their business, industry and professional colleagues are very valuable.
Another important goal of a networking meeting is to expand your network. Ask your contact who else you should talk to about your job-search and career interests. Also, ask for assistance in getting in touch with the recommended individuals. If you don’t ask for something, you won’t get it.
Don’t come bearing gifts. I once ran across an attorney who sent each of his networking contacts a crate of Florida oranges before he met them in person. That’s not only unnecessary; it is weird.
Lunch means you pay. If you have invited your contact to lunch for your meeting (which is sometimes the only reasonably private one-on-one time you can arrange with a busy individual), then you are the host and are expected to pay.
Follow-through. Make sure you stay in communication with your contacts. Send thank-you notes or emails following your meetings. Keep your contacts updated as to the status of your job campaign. Advise them how any leads they shared with you have turned out. If you hear that a contact has achieved some triumph, promotion, or has a new baby, etc., send a congratulatory note. Keep an eye out for opportunities to give your contacts valuable information which may help them advance their own business interests or careers. However, this does not mean flooding them with communications at every opportunity. Be reasonable about how frequently you touch base with them.