How to get someone to help you network

A number of really smart professionals have written about the idea behind the “double opt-in” introductory e-mail approach when asking to connect people within your network. I won’t rehash what they’ve already written, but at it’s core it revolves around reaching out to someone first before connecting them to one of your friends within your own network.  I’m a big fan of this strategy as it gives others a polite and easy way to handle the request, and makes you look like a professional. In addition to the double opt in e-mail, one other networking hack I’ve been using lately that has gotten success when asking for connections is going through the process of writing an email that your contact can use to reach out to someone you want to talk to within your network.  So, let’s say you want to talk to Jane Doe, who is a colleague of your friend John Doe. With the templated approach, you e-mail John Doe via the double opt-in intro, and ask for his help in connecting with Jane, but also mention that you can provide an email template he can use to reach out to Jane if he feels comfortable connecting you two.

When you are asking someone for a favor, it’s generally imposing on either their time or effort (or both) so my general rule of thumb is to try to be as gracious and thankful as I can. One way to do that is to respect their time. One way I’ve been doing this is by saving my friend a step by offering to write the introductory e-mail on their behalf so they don’t have to spend an extra 10-20 minutes thinking of what they need to say when they reach out to the contact you want to talk to.

Yes, 10-20 minutes is not a lot in the grand scheme of life, but it might be a nice chunk of time during any given workday. Furthermore, I’ve found when you can decrease the burden as much as possible people are more willing to respond. Sending the e-mail helps in many ways. First, it gives your friend the context they need, so they don’t have to think of it on their own. Second, it saves them time from actually writing the e-mail, and third, it allows you to convey your message in a way that is more consistent with what you want to say.

Lastly, some people are pretty comfortable with making good networking connections, so don’t constrict them to just using your words. Feel free to give them the autonomy they need to do what’s best.

Here’s an example of a note I recently wrote:

Hi (Name)

Hope all is well. How are things going over in NY?

I’m reaching out today for a  networking favor. I see that you are connected with (PERSON X) over at (Company Y) I think what (Company Y) is doing in this space is really interesting and I’d love to hear more about what (Person X) is doing to help drive the companies’ success in that space. I wanted to see if you were comfortable enough with helping me with an introduction to (Person X) I think a conversation around (Topic 1,2 and 3) will help me significantly. Would you be comfortable with reaching out to Person X to see if they’d be willing to chat?

I know you have a lot going on so I appreciate your time and consideration. Furthermore, if you’re willing to reach out, I can actually put together a few sentences you can use when you e-mail (Person X) . Obviously please use your words where you see fit, but hoping it can help provide the right context.

Thanks again, and hope to hear from you soon.

When someone asks you for your time

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We’ve all got (and sent those e-mails.) “Can I have a few minutes of your time to talk about your career?” At some point, we’ve all had to do an informational interview.

Earlier this year, I blogged about how I was able to effectively respond to 95% of the informational interview requests that came my way. I truly enjoy as it serves as a great way to connect with others and share information. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’ve been told as well that I’m usually pretty helpful in these conversations, so that makes me feel good too.

Lately, I’ve had a handful of disappointing experiences talking with students, professionals around these career conversations, which frustrates me because I do think they are important. Without turning this into a rant or a complaint, I want to share some feedback for others to hopefully help guide others who are looking to reach out to people in their network for informational interviews. I know I am not alone in this, so I hope this is useful.

 

First and foremost, show up – I’ve had multiple situations where someone reached out to connect with me and we setup time to chat, only to have them no-show on me. People forget and make mistakes – That happens, and is part of life. But think about the impression that you leave on someone when you no show on them, especially if you end up applying to a position at the company or school.

Have a purpose – I’ve had a few conversations with people who did show up but that was it. They seemed to treat the conversation as a formality or as part of their checklist of things that they needed to do. It was almost as if they had either been told that they needed to do informational interviews and they never understood why and just started emailing people or, they were already so advanced in the interview or admissions process that they were just trying to make sure they covered their bases. Obviously, you wouldn’t be asking for their help if you weren’t trying to learn, so naturally you’re going to ask some elementary questions, but doing some homework and being intentional about what you’re looking for shows your focus and purpose on what you’re trying to achieve. I’m a big believer in action is better than inaction, but remember that while this may serve your needs and wants you are also imposing on someone else’s time, which could be valuable. If you’re going to make a request for someone’s time, make sure it’s got a purpose.

 

Be Grateful – When someone gives you a half hour of their day to talk to you that means they are giving you some of their time that they could be using on something else. Be mindful and thoughtful of that by ensuring you are making the most of what they are giving you and for what you are asking of them.

Be Flexible – If you want someone to answer and respond to your request, the best way to maximize your efforts is to be as flexible as possible. If you tell them you can only chat from 5-6PM on Mondays, it can be easy for someone to say no if they cannot talk during that time. If you truly want to talk to someone, consider flexing around their availability.

 

Finally, for those of you that get networking requests, here are some tips that can help you manage them.

Push them out – If you’re short on time, or if you want to weed out your interviews, one suggestion is to push out the request to a later date. Tell the person you’d be happy to speak with them, but perhaps they could follow up in a week or two. This buys you time if you are busy, but it also puts it on the individual to take the initiative to follow up, which can tell you how serious they are about wanting to speak with you.

Make them articulate their purpose – Before you meet with them consider responding and asking them for specific things that you want to discuss. Having them articulate why they want to speak with you can help you tell how serious they are about the conversation. As I said before, they wouldn’t be reaching out to you if they weren’t trying to learn something, so naturally they may not have 100% clarity and that’s okay. But at least getting them to attempt to articulate what they are trying to achieve can help ensure you’re actually the best person to help them out.

Point them to other resources – Because of the Internet, many basic questions can be answered. To make things more efficient and to ensure conversations are worthwhile, consider sending them or pointing them to existing resources so you don’t have to repeat what your company or school’s website already says.

We all make mistakes, we’re all learning how to do this networking and career thing. None of these are the end of the world. Furthermore, part of figuring out your career journey is asking questions and talking to people, so much of this is the cost of doing business.

The 2 biggest takeaways I can try to impart are that when you’re networking with others try to remember that it’s not just about yourself. Finally, when you are talking with others, it means they are giving up some of their time that they could be using on something else, so when you shoot someone an e-mail asking for their time, remember to be thankful for it if they choose to give it to you.

How to conduct a meaningful informational interview

Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted numerous informational interviews with undergraduate and graduate students. I enjoy these interviews and welcome the opportunity to talk to students about their career ideas and aspirations. These students are looking for information that will hopefully inform them of whether or not to pursue a potential career, so being able to share insights and stories that can guide them in this process is something I enjoy and welcome.

Last week, I was speaking with a friend who also had done a fair share of informational interviews when they asked me what I thought were the ingredients of a good informational interview. I thought about the many interviews I’ve conducted as an interviewer and interviewee, and came up with a few characteristics.

 

Diligence – Informational interviews are great learning opportunities, but not all questions are best suited for an informational interview. It’s not very valuable for either of us if they ask me questions that can be found on the website.

I respect the people who take the time to do some homework before the interview. Sure – you can’t know everything about the industry or my computer (if you did, you wouldn’t have any use for the  interview!) doing some prep work demonstrates that you value time. To me, that is a sign of respect.

Furthermore, it also shows that you’re putting in effort to really learn as much as you can, not only on the call but also, before and afterward. That investment of time makes someone want to do what they can to help the other person in their pursuit.

Curiosity – I really appreciate and value people who demonstrate curiosity and inquisitiveness. As the saying goes, “those who are interested are interesting.”

Curiosity often breeds interesting questions, thoughtful comments, and a memorable conversation. It also demonstrates a genuine eagerness for learning, which is something I both respect and appreciate. People who are interesting (in a good way) will always be more memorable, especially when it comes to remembering whom to refer for potential interviews.

 

Authenticity – I’ve found the best informational interviews are the ones that are ones that are natural easy-going conversations. Sometimes, I think we get caught up in the formality and professional nature of the discussion that we forget to be ourselves.

Instead of telling stories about our background, we explain key bullet points on our resume. Instead of letting the discussion unfold naturally, we stick to our bulleted list of questions we thought of in advance.

There is an art and a science that comes to an informational interview. Diligence and preparedness take care of the science, but curiosity and truly being your authentic-self take care of the art.

There’s no one right way to conduct an informational interview. Like anything, experience and timing (and perhaps a few mistakes) refines our craft. In your next informational interview, try focusing on these three things and see what you learn.