5 steps to stress-free networking
As I’ve continued to work with so many recent college (and grad school) grads, I’m always looking for new ways to help them get comfortable with the idea of networking. So when 26-year-old Joey Friedman told me that she, too, hated networking, I discovered that her real worry was that she’d be annoying people. That’s when we came up with a strategy that she agreed might work. And it did! In fact, she was so amazed by her own success that she wrote this guide to successful cold connecting to share with her friends. Now she’s given me permission to share it with you, too. – Jaki Suter
How to get comfortable with cold connecting
by Joey Lynn Friedman
MA, Medical Anthropology, George Washington University
The bottom line: It sucks WAY less than you think.
I understand how most of my friends feel about cold connecting (i.e., reaching out to people on LinkedIn or via email). Like them, I thought it was wasteful and annoying, and that I would be put on a giant list of people not to hire because they contacted someone out of the blue – and then that list is distributed to all of the higher-ups in the world. But that’s pretty crazy.
It’s time to recognize that your negative attitude isn’t doing you any favors.
The worst that can happen is you don’t get a response and your recipient forgets about you forever. And the very worst consequence is that nothing has changed. So, if you have an opportunity to make a connection with someone, don’t overthink it. Just write the damn message! You can even get someone else to press “send” if that’s what it takes.
Here’s how I learned to push myself over the ledge of cold connecting…
#1: Start by looking for someone with whom you have something in common – and is doing something or working somewhere that interests you. Then look for a common connection. For me, that connection was my grad school, which happens to be in the same city where I’m currently living, along with a huge number of fellow alumni. But I didn’t limit myself to just those people who graduated in the same year as I did, or from the same program. And it still worked!
#2: Take advantage of your school’s alumni website. Google “my school alumni” and sign up for everything that applies to you. The sole purpose of an alumni organization is networking, so make the most of it! Pick some people who meet your criteria and draft a short message explaining who you are and why you’d like to connect. For example: “I see that you work of XYZ company and as a fellow graduate of ABC School, (class of 20XX), I’m wondering if we might be able to schedule a 10-minute phone call to talk about your work and what it’s like to work at XYZ company.” Run it by a friend – or someone else you trust (maybe someone with more business experience than you) -- before sending it.
#3: Send the message to yourself – to see how it would feel to receive that message. And make any necessary edits before sending it out.
#4: Remember a time where someone asked you about your job or degree? Remember how good it felt to discover that someone was genuinely interested in learning more about you and what you know? That person will feel the same way.
#5: Keep in mind that you’re asking for information and insights – not favors. Rest assured that if someone is willing to have a conversation with you, you’ll have an opportunity to mention you’re looking for a job and they may (or may not) offer to share your contact info with someone else. Either way, this isn’t the time to ask for it.
Here’s an example you can steal and rework:
“Hi Kinsey! I'm a recent [XYZ University] grad with a [type of degree] in [area of study]. I'd like to connect with you to learn about your experiences navigating the [field of interest] world in the [city] area. If you have the time, I would love to hear your story or ask some questions about your experience as a [job title]. Many thanks!”
Note that even though I’ve only recently received my MA and have just two years of health research experience, I contacted a Senior Associate Director, a CEO, a Research Associate II, an Associate Branch Chief, an Intern with a BA in Psych, a Research Associate and a Program Manager.
I had just two things in common with each person; going to the same university and studying something in the healthcare world.
On just the initial cold contact, the Senior Associate Director responded like this:
“Hi Joey, happy to connect. Not sure how helpful I'll be but I'll try! My background is primarily development and fundraising, but in these roles have worked with many hospitals in the region. So even if I can't be 100% helpful, maybe I know someone who can. Let meet know when you’re looking to chat.”
After that, the rest was a piece of cake! I ended up having conversations – and establishing relationships – with so many helpful and interesting people who were way more kind that I’d ever thought possible.
Try it yourself and see what happens!