With the recession brought about by COVID-19, many are saying that it’s a good time to work on networking. Well that’s true, in the sense that it is always a good time for networking. Networking is a skill that is always in demand, and, when honed properly, reaps dividends. How do I get my guest blog contributors? My network. How do I line up interviewees for my vlog? My network. Where do I get a lot of my blog topics? My network. How do I get my free vacations? Oh… wait… nope. Just wishful thinking on that one. Leveraging your network for the benefit of others is not only a true power move, but can be a genuinely generous act. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and so I have created the following guidelines for using my network wisely.
- State the Specific Reason
A third party once made an introduction by informing a stranger and me that we’re both awesome and should connect. Ummmm… thanks, but how do we follow up on that? “Hi there. Here’s how I’m awesome…. How are you awesome, and does any of our awesomeness overlap?” Cringe.
This is why generic introductions generally don’t work. With so many ways to invest our time, it ends up just being a game of blindman’s bluff as we try to figure out what interests are shared. So be helpful and give context for the connection. For example: “Greg, my friend, Jenny, is considering applying for a job at your company. Would you be open to talking to her about the work culture?”
- Be Concise
When it comes to an introduction, no one wants a long, rambling email, and there’s no need for it. One or two short paragraphs will do the trick (and short means just a few sentences… not ten). Again, you’re just trying to give a bit of background info and a reason.
And look at that; just a few sentences can get a point across. Boom!
- Cite Your Sources
Everything looking good? Ready to hit send? WAIT! Do your connections have LinkedIn accounts? Do you mention their business, and does said business have a website? Hellooooo, hyperlinks! Their name, their business’s name, their volunteer group, etc. Any names you drop, highlight those suckers and turn them into hyperlinks. This makes it easier for the people you’re introducing to do their own background research. They’ve each already worked hard to explain their career experiences and educational background – why should you re-create the wheel?
- Ask Permission
If you happen to have a Venture Capitalist or a high-level corporate executive in your network, recognize the fact that these individuals might get more introductions than they want, especially if a lot of those introductions feel more like solicitations. Seeking permission beforehand demonstrates that you value them more than their position. I’ve done this on multiple occasions and those high-flying individuals have told me they appreciate my discretion.
- Prioritize and Safeguard Your Network
On that last point, occasionally I have had people request that I make connections for them to which I have responded with a (hopefully respectful) no. Usually, this is because the connection is too one-sided. I’ll give a few examples. It could be a nonprofit wanting to get access to my C-Level network to get corporate sponsorships for an upcoming fundraising event. Or it could be a college student wanting to meet a CEO to ask for a job. Regardless of the scenario, the end result is that I don’t feel comfortable opening up my community to that kind of generic introduction. I don’t think it respects the other person. They are seen as an opportunity rather than an individual with their own personal strengths or interests. I’ll make the match, if it seems like it could be a fit for both sides (for example, if the C-Suite Exec has expressed an interest that aligns with that nonprofit’s cause). Usually the person asking is disappointed, but I prefer to prioritize one person’s intrinsic value over another person’s ambitions. So, reader, if the connection isn’t a good fit for both sides or makes you uncomfortable for some other reason, remember, you can always say no.
So, dear reader, as you digest these tidbits, here’s one final nugget from a member of my network as you prepare to step up your networking game. Jordan Birnbaum, Chief Behavioral Economist at ADP, said: “I think the best thing you can do to get over an aversion to networking is to re-frame the reasons why you are doing it. If you are networking to create future opportunities for yourself, then networking is a transactional exercise with no guarantee of success — not particularly appealing. But if you view networking as an opportunity to make authentic and meaningful connections with someone else, then networking will not only be more fun — it will be more productive.”
Well, class, that was Networking 201. Be sure to circle back if you missed Networking 101 (Hello, shameless plug!). Until next time, keep the questions coming, and keep building your connections! During challenging times, it’s more important than ever that we bond together and help support each other.
Jacquelyn Adams is a career development enthusiast and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, delving into more effective employee training strategies… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.