In the career transition journey, there are some things you can control and some things you can’t. This is especially true when reaching out to people you’d like to connect with to expand your network. You can try to create touch points, but you can’t make them call you back. However, there are some steps you can take to increase the likelihood of making a connection with that person, and forming a relationship where there’s something in it for both parties.
Do your homework.
Laziness in preparation is going to keep you from success. Before you connect with someone, you need to spend some time researching them and their organization. Work through your current network to see if you know someone who has a relationship with this person. Rather than immediately asking for an introduction to the person you want to connect with, ask for insight into this person instead. Those insights will allow you to create a conversation once you do reach out to them.
Reach out with reciprocity in mind.
Once you’ve taken time to research, leverage that info you’ve collected to create an opportunity for a conversation that makes it easy for them to say yes to your request to connect. Most people enjoy talking about themselves or what they’re passionate about. You don’t want to ask for a lot of time (just 20-30 minutes), but tell them you want to hear their story, about how they got into the field, or how they discovered their passion. Show that you’ve learned something about them and want to learn something from them.
Too often, we’re so anxious to get through the process that we skip all that. We go straight to telling them exactly what we want to get out of this—a job, to sell them something, etc. If you don’t create a relationship by starting a conversation, you are making it hard for them to say yes. It takes four to six months to develop a relationship to the point where you can make these kinds of big asks, and you absolutely cannot rush it. This is why I believe it’s so important to develop relationships early while you are gainfully employed, not once you’re in transition.
When you first make contact with the person you want to get to know, it is essential to make sure the other person understands that this is a reciprocal relationship, that you intend to give, not just take. You need to create a scenario where the person’s engagement is a win for them. Before reaching out, consider: what’s in it for them? This will take effort and thought, but it is essential to building a healthy network.
What happens if you reach out and don’t get a response? You must remember that It takes time to establish a connection, especially if you’ve never met this person or haven’t known them long. It’s not tit for tat. If you reach out and they don’t respond, you can’t just quit. You’ve got to be the pursuer.
I’m often asked how frequently to follow up. I recommend starting with creating a touch point every 30 days, and mixing up the means of contacting them. If you have access to somebody by multiple means, such as email, LinkedIn, or phone, use all the modes at your disposal. Everybody has their favorite that makes them most responsive. Once you discover what that mode is, lean more heavily toward where they best respond. It is also helpful to have a good follow-up system. Create alerts to know when the next follow-up is coming. Help yourself to remember to call again.
So how do you create those touch points? Reach out based on what you’ve shared with them before, then build on that. The message may be the same, but the wording should be different. Be creative, and keep collecting info. For example, if you see something positive said about their company or them, reach out simply to say congratulations, asking for nothing in return. Not every touch point has to require a response from them.
I’ve observed that most people give up off after the third attempt at getting in touch with someone. Anyone that goes beyond that will separate themselves from everybody else. The fact is that creating points of contact takes time—months! —and most people want instant gratification. It’s not going to happen overnight. Expanding your network in a mutually beneficial way requires effort, commitment, and tenacity.
In my experience, you can “wear people down.” They come to the conclusion, “This person really does want to connect. They haven’t been overly demanding. They have only asked for 20 minutes of my time. I can do that.”
Remember throughout the follow-up process that your job is to learn that person’s passion. Once you know that, conversation becomes easy. And I guarantee that talking about their passion will change the way they think about you. Look for connecting points. People can only respond to so many requests for their time, and the one who has established some common ground is more likely to earn a few minutes of it.