Last week’s post kicked off this series on how to use networking as a professional development tool.
This week, we take the next steps from mapping your network, to making your request for a meeting, what to say in the meetings, and how to follow-up.
Step #5: Make a specific request.
Before you pick up the phone or type an email, review your goal or purpose in networking (step #1) and be able to articulate verbally and in writing why you’re calling and what you want. Practice this if you need to.
Why are you contacting this person? What are you looking for in connecting?
Now, pick up the phone or sit down at your keyboard. (With the volume of email people get these days, a phone call may get you further, but know your audience and use your own judgment.)
Your basic script for this will sound something like this:
In network: “Hey Z, it’s been awhile since we’ve been in touch.”
Out of network: “Hello Ms. Q, our common colleague Mr X. recommended I connect with you because of our shared interest around XYZ.”
Then choose some acknowledgment of what you admire or appreciate about them, such as:
“I’d love to learn more about how you got to be a leader in this field”
“I’m thinking about a shift in my current career direction and wanted your advice”
“It’s been awhile since we’ve connected, and I always find our conversations valuable”
“I’ve got an idea I’ve been mulling over and wanted to get your thoughts on this topic”
Finally, make a specific request:
“I’d like to schedule 30 minutes to talk about (insert your purpose for contacting them). When could I take you out to coffee?”
Most people will give you at least 30 minutes for a meeting, either by phone or in person.
Step #6: It’s not about you.
Paradoxically, while you are the one asking for the meeting and the advice, the focus of your meeting is not you.
Your intent in the meeting is to get the other person to talk as much as possible — how they’ve advanced in their career, what advice they would give to someone entering the field, or what are the emerging trends they are noticing.
Your job is to listen and ask more questions. Most people will ask you questions as well, but the focus should be mostly on them, not you.
If you’re wondering how to do this, rest assured that most everyone loves to talk about themselves!
The opportunity to be listened to is a rare gift, and most people you meet with will be flattered and honored that you are asking for their opinion and advice.
Most people want to give back and help others advance in the field.
Depending on your purpose in networking, have a copy of your resume/CV available (you can even keep a copy in a folder on your phone to email them), in case they ask for it, but don’t necessarily expect that you’ll be handing it out.
Remember, the focus of the meeting is them.
To prepare, write out five questions you might want to ask people who you are planning to meeting with.
Step #7: Be a resource.
End each networking meeting by asking your contact if they can suggest anyone else you should talk to, and if they would be willing to make an introduction for you: this continues to build your list of contacts.
Through your network, you can make some of your “cold” contacts “warmer” ones.
Consider too how you might be able to assist this contact person through information, contacts, or resources you are aware of.
If you see an opportunity for them, be sure to follow-up with an email or call after the meeting if you see a point of connection that could serve their agenda or interests.
List out resources that you know of or could offer that would be helpful to your contacts.
Step #8: Say thank you.
Yes, your grandmother was right: a simple handwritten thank you note (ideally sent within 24 hours) acknowledging your appreciation and gratitude goes a long way.
People so rarely get personal mail these days that even a simple note can make a big impact.
The thank you note format can be as simple as this:
“Dear Ms. Q, thank you for your time today. I really appreciated (your expertise, your insight, or your generosity — you choose something you sincerely appreciated in the interaction and want to acknowledge). I hope our paths cross again soon. Sincerely,….”
If you doubt the importance of this step, consider how you felt when someone thanked you sincerely for something you did.
Acknowledging someone’s gift of time to you is a simple but significant reminder of their impact.
Step #9: Keep track and keep going!
Be sure you keep track of who you’ve talked to, when you talked to them, their contact information, and to whom they have referred you.
This can be a simple as some 3×5 cards or an Evernote file, or as complex as an Excel spreadsheet. You decide what works for you.
And keep going! Building (and maintaining) professional relationships is an on-going process, not a one time event.
And this is just a beginning: these steps are ones you can continue to use over time, regardless of where you are on your career path.
If you find yourself stale, uninspired, professionally isolated or just curious, connecting into your professional network can give you a well-needed shot of inspiration, even potentially leading to your next big professional opportunity!
In the Comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these steps – which surprised you or stood out to you? Let us know too how you’ve successfully used networking as a professional development tool!
Hanna Cooper is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.