No, we don’t mean a connection at the airport! While that may also be quite the feat to pull off, let’s talk in the context of networking. Say you stumbled across a LinkedIn account, a company’s contact sheet or even heard about someone via a friend that you would like to know. Now you’re intrigued, and you want to know more. Great! The first step is actively seeking connections, so place a checkmark next to that initial step. All interactions will have a degree of difference based on factors such as platform and relationship, but here are a few steps to help you get started in reaching out to build your network:
Identify Your Goals For the Connection
What are you looking to get out of this connection? Expertise? Even more connections? A professional to look over your work? Career advice? Whatever it is, it is always good to identify your purpose. However, you certainly do not need to lay it all out there when you first reach out, especially if you are looking for more connections. So, keep in mind while reaching out that you are connecting to a person, not to a search bar or an algorithm.
Did you hear about this connection from a friend, family member or coworker? If not, don’t worry – it’s not the end of the world. If so, ask them to introduce you. Whether this is linking you up via an email or a quick meeting while on lunch break, a mutual friend can help smooth out the process. But keep in mind, it’s your job to take the initiative after you meet. Do not rely on your mutual connection to keep the conversation moving forward!
Choose Your Contact Method
Did you receive your connection’s phone number, email, contact sheet, LinkedIn, or even Instagram handle? Perfect. It doesn’t matter what contact method you have, all that matters is that you have a method. If you’re going to be speaking to your connection in-person or over the phone, make sure that you know how to pronounce their name. Likewise, in any form of written communication, be sure that you are addressing your connection politely. Spell their name correctly and use the appropriate title (i.e. if they’re a Dr., etc.) Make sure to pay attention to use the name that they prefer, whether that’s a last name, full name, or a nickname that you know they ask people to call them by. Additionally, always be sure to double check the information to make sure you’ll be chatting with the right person.
Draft Your Message
Start by introducing yourself. If you have previously been introduced through a mutual connection, recount that experience. After your introduction, mention something that stood out to you, either from their experiences or the company’s. It is important to show that you have done your research. Here’s where your prep work in identifying your purpose is going to pay off! With your purpose in mind, allow this to guide you as you request to speak with them, with a specific ask that’s clear and concise. Be respectful of their time, thanking them for their consideration.
This is the most difficult part! Muster up your courage, be hopeful towards this opportunity and remember: the worst they can say is nothing at all. Give your message a final check by yourself and then enlist a friend or family member to proofread it as well. This way, you can feel completely confident that what you want to say is getting across in your message.
Be Patient, Be Responsive.
Chances are that you will not get an immediate response. If you do, you are part of a small and lucky group. Your message is a fun surprise, but a surprise nonetheless, meaning that it was not on their agenda. Have patience; good things come with time. When you do get a response, be prompt in your answer. This shows your interest and enthusiasm.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
So, you’ve waited a couple weeks, and the line is still radio silent? Don’t sweat it! Sometimes you just might not get a response. Do not let this discourage you. Consider this to be practice that will help you in the long run. You can also always send a follow-up. This would entail a quick message replying off of the original that you sent simply asking to confirm that your connection has seen it. In this day and age, it is incredibly easy for a message to get lost in the raging sea that is an inbox.
Even the most successful professionals all had their beginnings. They know exactly what it is like to be in your shoes, and with very few exceptions, are always happy to help up-and-coming professionals. Be sure not to overlook your own friends and family, as they may have stories and advice you won’t know about until you ask. It is also never too early to begin your networking journey. Put yourself out there, and best of luck!