In the digital age, we have networks larger than ever before. Just look at your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles where you get to keep in contact with people you haven’t seen in years. Social media is great for maintaining old relationships, but it isn’t as good for building new relationships. Think about all the messages you get on LinkedIn from people you’ve never met. Even in the digital age, there is no type of networking more powerful than meeting face to face and having a genuine conversation.
As an analyst, you will benefit from finding a mentor. As a partner, you need to find clients. As a VP, you need to meet others in your industry to recruit employees and learn about what other companies are doing in your industry. Networking is a skill that gets more important as you progress through your career. Fortunately it’s a skill that can be learned just like any other skill, and it’s one that will open up doors for you in your career.
My last semester of college, I made a goal to network with one person a week. I emailed 15 people and met with 9. Years later, some of those people are still mentors and friends. In fact, one of them was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and I met with him again earlier this week, five years after we first talked! He’s been a valuable mentor throughout my career.
A good mentor can change everything about your career and help you climb up the ladder.
Most people go wrong with networking from the very beginning. They either go to some random industry event with business cards and never talk to anyone they don’t already know. Or they get connected to one of their parents friends and then ask for a job they probably don’t deserve.
There are only a few acceptable goals for networking. One is to help the person you are meeting. Perhaps you have some knowledge that might benefit someone you respect and admire. That is a great reason to contact him and share your knowledge without expecting anything else in return. Another reason is to learn from other people. Older people, even if they are just a few years older than you, are glad to share their wisdom and experiences with you. They will tell you the advice they wish they had known at your age.
Before we dive into the tactics, let’s get one thing out of the way: the first time you meet someone don’t ask for a job or a reference to another person. No one likes to be used, and the person you’re meeting is no exception.
Build professional relationships over time and provide value to the other person.
Take a much longer view. Treat them like you would treat someone who will be in your life for ten years or more. Over time, build a relationship with this person, provide them value, and build trust. Once you’ve proven yourself and you have a genuine two-way professional relationship with this person, then you can ask for reasonable favors. If they can help, they will let you know. If not, take it graciously and continue the relationship just because you value that person as a human being. Never network with an ulterior motive. You would never become best friends with someone because you expect he will be useful to you in the future. Don’t do that with your business relationships either.
The most effective way to reach out to someone you don’t know is through email. LinkedIn and other social media don’t work out well because it feels like spam. Phone calls from unknown numbers get screened in voicemail, and well, no one calls anymore. Emails can be answered on the recipient’s schedule and people tend to take time to read through emails.
Below is an email script you can use to meet with almost any person. Emails tend to get better responses when you have something in common with someone else. It can be something very direct like “Our mutual friend Jane Doe suggested that I reach out to you” or something less direct such as “I’m also an alum of State University”. When you have something in common and you are genuinely asking for advice, people tend to take the time to help you out.
Subject: Fellow State University alum would love your career advice [Say what you have in common and that you want advice.]
My name is [full name], an Associate at XYZ Corporation. I came across your name from the State University’s alumni website. [Say who you are and how you found out who she is.]
I’d love to get your career advice for 15 minutes. I am considering switching companies, but before making the jump I’d like to talk to someone who has worked at many of the best firms in the industry. Your LinkedIn profile says that you have a lot of experience at these leading firms. [Let her know early on what you’d like, in this case a quick talk for advice. Then let her know why you specifically want her advice instead of someone else’s advice.]
Would it be possible for us to meet? You could provide a lot of insight about the firms in the industry and what to watch out for while switching companies. It would also be great to hear about your career path after State University. [Make a direct ask for a meeting. Then say something complimentary and remind her about your shared connection.]
I can meet you for coffee, call you on the phone, or come by your office. I can work around your schedule. Would it be possible for us to meet? [Work around her schedule and location. You are asking for her help so make it convenient for her. End with a yes or no question so it’s easy for her to reply with a yes response.]
Go out and talk to people
Now that you have the mindset and tools to network, I’m going to challenge you to try it. Email 5 people you want advice from and talk to them. At least one person will give you life changing advice that helps your career.
This article is part 3 in a series about building interpersonal skills for your career. Click on the links below to see the rest of the series:
Part 1: Body language – projecting confidence