From industry events to parties with friends, there are plenty of opportunities to build your personal network, especially as the world starts to open back up after the lengthy pandemic shutdown. But what about job interviews? You’re meeting someone new, but could it also be an opportunity to grow your network?
“Every interaction you have with someone new is an opportunity to network,” says Amanda Augustine, career expert for TopResume, and Fast Company contributor. “Whether you’re taking a pottery class, attending a PTA event at your kid’s school, waiting in line at the local coffee shop, and even while you’re on a job interview, you can use these occasions to grow your personal network.”
In fact, the interview process can become an essential way to network in your field, says Keith Sims, president of Integrity Resource Management, a Sanford Rose affiliate executive search firm. “Interviewing is a great way to have one-on-one time with senior level players in your industry and to get introduced to new contacts,” he says.
Your goal going into an interview can be twofold: determine if the job opportunity is the right fit for you and make a connection with a professional in your field.
How to Network in an Interview
One of the objectives during a job interview is to build rapport with your interviewers, says Augustine. “If you’re able to connect with your interviewer, you’ll not only become a more memorable candidate, but you’ll also open doors to developing a valuable networking relationship, regardless of whether you land the job,” she says.
Ask your main point of contact for the names of the people with whom you’ll be interviewing, so you can look at their online profiles and get to know them a little better, suggests Augustine. Then do your research.
“Interviews are not pop quizzes,” says Sims. “Most of what you need to prepare for an interview is public knowledge in press releases, industry blogs, and on LinkedIn.”
Sims suggests spending time investigating the company and the person you’ll be meeting. Prepare stories about your experience that might be relevant to the interviewer based on what you learn about their background. Also, plan to ask questions that show your market insight.
“Ask specific business questions about how changes in the market are impacting their business,” says Sims. “Be prepared to discuss actions you have taken to address those challenges in your current and past roles. If you are going to add value to the relationship, you have to be seen as a peer and a rising industry thought leader.”
Be sure to take advantage of the small talk that usually occurs at the beginning of an interview to learn more about the person, such as their interests outside of work and if they have any upcoming travel plans or a favorite sports team, says Augustine. “These little details will help you craft a more personalized follow-up note after the interview and can be used as opportunities to reach out in the future,” she says.
What to Do After the Interview
In addition to sending your regular, post-interview thank-you note, send a LinkedIn connection request with a personalized note to accompany your request, suggests Augustine. “Consider following up with a ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Happy New Year’ email in the coming months to reconnect and let the individual know how much you enjoyed meeting them,” she adds.
You can also look for ways to stay in touch based on what you learned during the interview. “For instance, if you learn about a new podcast that’s coming out or read a good article about your interviewer’s favorite artist, you now have a reason to reach out and share the information,” says Augustine. “The same goes if you learn about an interesting networking event or webinar that the individual might like. The idea is to look for ways to connect with the person—especially when you have a shared interest—so you get to know one another outside of the candidate-interviewer relationship.”
If you find out you didn’t land the job, you can use the news to build your network, says Jeff Henderson, author of What to Do Next: Taking Your Best Step When Life is Uncertain.
“Typically, when somebody gets the call that they didn’t get the job, they’re disappointed,” he says. “But it’s important to realize that the person on the other end of the phone hates delivering bad news. Use the opportunity to ask questions.”
For example, you could say, “If you were me, what would you do now?” “How can I stay in touch with you?” or “What should my next steps be?”
“Then, based on what they say, stay in touch,” says Henderson.
If the person delivering the news isn’t the person who interviewed you or if you were interviewed by more than one person at the company, be sure to reach out to them, adds Augustine.
“Let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them, and indicate that you’d like to stay in touch, should something change, or another opportunity opens up that’s a better fit,” she says. “Moving on in a professional manner and with a positive attitude will go a long way to helping you cultivate long-term relationships with those you’ve met during the interview process.”
“Networking is a little bit like life insurance,” says Henderson. “You need to get it when you don’t need it. Networking can be hard because we’re all busy, but you should always be building your personal network. We are one or two or three people away from our next opportunity.”