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Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise, Mission Statements and the Problem with Exploratory Interviews

One of my all-time favorite movies is Jerry Maguire featuring Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger. The movie opens with a pivotal scene where Tom Cruise is pouring his heart and soul into writing a mission statement. He writes that the key to the future of their sports agency business is “Fewer Clients. Less Money” and then shares these thoughts with his employer.

I am not giving anything away to say that it does not go over well. His colleagues most certainly do not share his vision and passion, and he is soon looking for a new job. In movies and life, words matter. They have meaning, and all parties need to be on the same page if you want to achieve a common goal.

What do Jerry Maguire and his mission statement troubles have to do with networking? Everything. In networking for your next job, words and intentions can have unintended consequences. I conducted a quick test on Google for the quantity and frequency of search results on networking meetings. Here is what I found for two related search terms.

  • Exploratory Interview: 35.9M Total Search Results at 720 Searches Per Month

  • Exploratory Meeting: 34.1M Total Search Results at 210 Searches Per Month

Houston, we have a problem. The internet views exploratory meetings and exploratory interviews as virtually the same topic (roughly 34M+ articles). Additionally, job seekers spend more time searching for the term “exploratory interview” every month. But a meeting is categorically not an interview. And if you approach your job search networking, thinking each conversation that you have with a potential network contact is an interview, you are going to be hard-pressed to build a viable network.

Just like Jerry Maguire and his coworkers, your potential network contact is not necessarily on the same page as you when it comes time to talk over the phone or meet for a cup of coffee. You are looking for a job. But your contact for this informal conversation doesn’t have a job. They are not a recruiter. They are not a hiring manager. And they most certainly don’t want to see your resume. At least not right away. When you call this meeting an exploratory interview, you set an expectation in your mind that the objective of the conversation is all about you and finding that next job. Unfortunately, your contact can’t give you what they don’t have so you will leave alone, disappointed, and no further along in your job search. At least Jerry Maguire left the office with Renee Zellweger on his team!

If it is not an interview, then what is the objective of an exploratory meeting? More specifically, what do you want to get out of the meeting? I recommend that you focus on three primary objectives for your exploratory meetings. I refer to these objectives as the three E’s of Education, Engagement, and Expansion.

  • Education: You should use each exploratory meeting as an opportunity to learn more about a specific industry, company, organizational culture, and the career path of your network contact. Come prepared with three to four deep and insightful questions for the meeting. By deep and insightful, I mean issues that are not obvious from a website or a LinkedIn profile. These should be questions to which you do not know the answer and that have the potential to elicit a productive conversation with your contact.

  • Engagement: At the onset of the exploratory meeting, you will have the opportunity to introduce yourself and share a very concise and focused version of your elevator pitch. The combination of your introduction, elevator pitch, and several minutes of meaningful conversation will engage your contact. Full engagement means that the connection is now an active member of your job search professional network. And as a member of your network, you also should be thinking about how you can assist this new contact. Networking is not a one-way street. Give as much as you get in return and always be thinking about how you can add value to your network.

  • Expansion: Near the end of each exploratory meeting, you should always ask your contact for two or three individuals within their network that they would recommend you reach out to for exploratory meetings. In addition to working your network database, each exploratory meeting that you complete is an opportunity for further network expansion. Think of the potential to build a database of potential network contacts as a reverse pyramid from these meetings. If your first exploratory meeting produces three more potential connections, and those next three meetings provide three more contacts each, you are on a path to an exponential expansion of the database. Additionally, you will experience a higher close rate on acceptance for future meetings when you can reference an existing network contact as the rationale for the new exploratory meeting.

Make this one simple change to your vocabulary when you start your job search process. There is no such thing as an exploratory interview. Eliminate that phrase from your vocabulary. Save the interviews for recruiters and hiring managers. Instead, have lots of exploratory meetings. In fact, target at least three per week. Do that and watch your job search network grow. Soon you will be having lots of real job interviews. And perhaps, like Jerry Maguire, you will one day be looking at you next job offer happily shouting, “Show me the money!”

If you like getting your job search advice served up with an authentic voice, a dose of humility, and some popular culture, please subscribe to my AdvantEdge blog.

Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.


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