There are three levels of networking and outreach. Each of them requires preparation and a professional approach. The first level is the “safe” person. They know you informally or formally, but, will not expect that you are totally focused and prepared as you begin your job search. Often, this is someone who has been on a related job search and is identified by a friend or colleague. They are safe to talk with and can answer the basic questions for you that are related to the career path you are considering.
The next level is the person who may have the ear of the decision maker for the position you are applying for, but, is still willing to assist you with your preparation for this career. You should have researched the industry or practice area and be prepared with specific questions about the expectations of the position as well as questions about this individual’s career path.
Remember, even though this is not the decision maker, this person may be screening you to see if they should refer you forward. The third level is the person who is the decision maker about the position. You may not ask them about a job during networking or informational interviews. You must be prepared, focused and professional with this person at all times. Your preparation is the first step to showing the employer or potential employer your value to the organization.