Master the Ask: What To Do With All That Networking?
Networking can be the key to finding great jobs and getting ahead in your career. So you go to networking events and alumni functions. You join networking groups. But...then what? What do you do with the stack of business cards and people you met? How do you approach these people when you need an introduction for a job lead or want to pitch your services?
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career coach and a founding partner at SixFigureStart. In her recent Jam Session she talked about how to stay on people’s radars without being pushy. That way, when you do need to ask them for something, it will be completely natural.
You Already Know The “Right” People
It’s a misconception that you have to know the “right” people in order to get ahead. While everyone can always expand their network, you can get started right where you are.
Think about how many people you know on a first-name basis. If you had a business need, a reference, a testimonial, etc., how many people could you ask without imposing?
It’s important to remember that your specific question can’t be answered by everyone in your network. This is why you need a large and diverse network. It increases your chances that you’ll find what you need when you need it.
Keep Tabs On People Who Already Like And Trust You
Remember that you don’t know who people know. Even someone who hasn’t worked in a while or doesn’t seem to be very well connected could lead you to who you need to talk to. They just need to know what it is you need or want.
And be flexible. Maybe someone who already likes you knows someone at a company you’re trying to explore, or plays tennis with someone in a similar company. Think about how you can shrink your question or need in order to get results that you need.
Maybe Not Now, But Later
When people aren’t willing to help you, sometimes that just means right now. Maybe they don’t know you very well or have too much on their plate. Reorient your thinking. Maybe they could be willing to help later. Try to start up a non-committal dialogue so they can get to know you. This won’t happen overnight, but is worth the effort.
Follow Up Precedes The Ask
Before you ask anyone for anything, you have to build a genuine relationship with them. Don’t be the person who only reaches out when they need something. That’s what makes networking uncomfortable.
When was the last time you reconnected with a former colleague or classmate? If you can’t remember, make a plan to reach out. This can be as simple as a “Hi! How are you?”
Before you reach out to someone, research them a little. Have they recently gotten promotion? Finished grad school? Moved? Details like this will make the communication feel natural.
The Best Follow Up is General And Non-Committal
Let’s say you go to an event and you meet people that someday you may want to pitch your services to. In order to build a genuine relationship with them, you need to follow up.
The best follow up is focused on the other person and non committal. It’s not about you and you’re not asking for anything. Examples of this are:
• Send a thank you note: You can also tweet something like, “Loved your presentation!”
• Send an article of interest: If they mentioned something in your chat that is relevant.
• Give a results update: Maybe they suggested a service or a hack. You tried it and it worked. People love to know when they were helpful.
• Send holiday greetings: In whatever form makes sense for you. That way, your contacts hear from you at least once a year.
• Congratulate them: On promotions, new jobs, etc.
• Make a referral or recommendation: Maybe the mentioned they needed admin help and you know a great staffing firm.
Engaging Is A Two-Way Dialogue. Do You Have Something To Say?
If you haven’t been in contact with someone for a while, you need to get the conversation going. Simple questions such as How’s it going? How’s business? What are you working on? are easy ways to reconnect.
You also need to be able to talk about what you’re doing and angle it to the future. Catch people up and let them know what you want to be working on. Think of it as a quick elevator pitch.
You’ll need different versions of this, depending on where you are and who you’ll be talking to.
• 20-seconds: For when you’re first meeting people at a conferences and other events.
• One-minute: When you’re at a dinner party or a cocktail party or other social events.
• Two-minute: When you’re at a business meeting or lunch, when someone can really focus their attention on you.
Does Your Network Support You?
If your contacts were to hear about an opportunity, would they think of you, want to recommend you and know how to recommend you accurately? This part is really important, because as we progress through our careers, we change, and our network needs to know.
Generally speaking, people want to help, as long as they know how. Some people might know you from ten years ago when you went to school together or when you were in an entry or mid-level job. They need to know who you are now.
The best follow up is right after you meet someone usually within 48 hours to a week. But it’s really never too late. If it seems awkward to reach out to someone after years of no contact, you can always blame Linkedin. You can say something like, “You popped up in my Linkedin. Congrats on the new job!” or “I saw something about the school you went to and you immediately came to mind. How are you?”
Quid Pro Quo Is Not a Dirty Word
Networking requires qui pro quo. I’ll do this for someone and someone in my network, eventually, is going to do something for me. I’m confident I am a giving person and my network supports me overall.
If you feel like you’re a giving person and you’re just not getting enough back, that could mean that you’re not asking enough or you’re not in the right network. Maybe you’re spending too much time at conferences or with membership associations or even on social media and instead you should be somewhere else. When you seem stuck, try a new tactic, a new group or make sure you are physically meeting people and not relying too much on social media.
Networking Is A Muscle
Networking is a muscle that needs to worked every day in order to grow. You can also think of it like a bonsai tree, one that needs to be constantly pruned and cared for in order to thrive.
• Start by taking inventory your network (Outlook, Linkedin, etc.) Who knows and likes you now? What relationships will need to be nurtured? Most importantly, what are you going to talk about when you reach out to them?
• Identify your immediate 30, 60 and 90 day needs.
• Network of 100: Make a list of 100 people to get in touch with over the next month. That’s just three people a day to engage in generous and non-committal follow up.