Design Your Focus of Inquiry for Lower-Stress Networking

Networking can be an indoor sport for some and a stressful mystery for others. No matter where you are along that spectrum, there is a new way to approach networking. It’s more than “informational interviewing” – it’s called Focus of Inquiry. It pre-focuses and then guides you when you enter a networking situation so that you can conduct a meaningful conversation.

Focus of Inquiry is a set of key questions that you use to focus yourself and your networking partners on a conversation about:

1. Things that are of genuine interest to you

2. Related to things you can do (and have done)

To develop good questions for your networking, they must meet those two requirements. If you are not genuinely interested in the software industry, asking a bunch of questions about software will soon start to sound mechanical and stiff. And you’ll wish you’d never let your geeky conversation partner get started talking about agile programming.

Similarly, starting a conversation about an area of interest that doesn’t relate to your key insights, abilities and experiences as a professional is a real time waster when you’re networking. It will enable the conversation to wander off in ways that are entertaining but add nothing to the other person’s insights as to how you create impact and results with your talent. At that point you have offered him or her few clues to help them accurately refer you to work or another (more) helpful networking partner to aid your market research.

Example of Focus of Inquiry vs. Unfocused Networking:

Chris is a corporate training and development professional with an interest in moving her skills from high tech to healthcare. She is introduced to a brain surgeon at a cocktail party and opens the conversation.  First we’ll see the inept way. Second, the focused, strategic way.


Host:   Chris, I’d like you to meet Jose, a colleague of mine from OHSU. He’s a neurosurgeon up  on the Hill.

Chris:  Jose, it’s great to meet you. (deep breath) You know I’ve always been fascinated by brain surgery. Have you been doing any new and innovative procedures recently.

Jose: Well, ah yes, we’ve recently done some cryogenic techniques for the first time at OHSU and blah, blah, blah…details about brain anatomy…blah blah…. Why do you ask? Are you in the field?

Chris: Ah, no. Well I was just curious……blah, blah


Host: introduces….

Chris: Jose, it’s great to meet you. Do you mind if I ask you a sort of unique question about your work as a neurosurgeon?

Jose: No, go ahead. I’m curious to know your question now.

Chris: You’re in such a rare specialty area of medicine. I’m interested in knowing the process you go through to access training and to get your surgical team trained in new techniques in your field.

Jose: Oh what an ordeal. I really find the process of documenting development plans for my team and making the case for training funds to be tedious and somewhat mysterious. The process for training requests and scheduling is really a complex mess up here. Why do you ask? What do you do?

Chris: I help managers design training processes that expedite learning and minimize complexity. For example, I’ve streamlined development planning in a way that makes training plans and budgets a snap for department managers.

Jose: Hmmm, Do you have a business card on you?

(If only it was this easy, right.)

Chris focused her conversation in an area that enhanced her knowledge about a genuine interest of hers while also giving her a chance to exchange insights or information that could help her conversation partner because it was relevant to her talent and experience.

Your Focus of Inquiry. While you’re searching for meaningful work you should never go to a meeting, party, gathering-of-any-kind without it.

In my next blog, I’ll discuss why you need a P.I.N.T. to help you build a good networking strategy and focus your inquiry.

BruceHazenheadshotsmBruce Hazen, MS
Three Questions Consulting
Bruce is a career and management coach working with professionals who are at career crossroads and wanting answers and action strategies for one or more of The Three Career Questions:

1. When is it time to move up?
2. When is it time to move out?
3. When is it time to adapt my style for greater success?

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  1. You’re Gone. You’re Breaking News. Leverage it. | Career Transition: The Inside Job - September 11, 2014

    […] Remember, you’ve got approximately six weeks before the “Your gone. You’re breaking news.” window closes, and then you’re pretty much like every other person who is networking. That is, unless you have a Focus of Inquiry. See Design Your Focus of Inquiry for Lower-Stress Networking. […]

  2. How to Succeed at Business Without (kind of) Even Trying | Ordinary Times - November 13, 2014

    […] so poisoned and is so misunderstood that it’s probably best not to use it here.  So I’ll use Focus of Inquiry (FOQ), a phrase coined by my friend Bruce Hazen. FOQ is networking with the intention of learning […]

  3. Work Hunting With a Gravity Slingshot | Career Transition: The Inside Job - September 29, 2015

    […] the PINT for your market (Problems, Issues, Needs and Trends)  to compensate for the fact that you only paid real attention to the things happening inside your […]

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