By Julia Bonem '87BC of the Columbia Career Coaches Network
So, you've pushed back your keyboard and attended events to make new connections. Great start, since networking is the #1 way to find a new job and build professional relationships! But, how do you most effectively follow up with those who can help you land your next role or grow your business?
Timely and effective follow up after meeting people is a reflection of your personal brand; it can strengthen your professional reputation and may attract new opportunities. Staying connected can also help you cultivate relationships with contacts who'll be your champions when you apply for jobs or seek introductions to potential clients.
Reconnect, and Soon
After exchanging business cards with your new contact, send an email within 1 to 2 days to reconnect while you're still top of mind. First, reflect on your conversation and what you shared, so that your message is of interest to them. Then review their LinkedIn profile for ideas about how to frame your message. Strive to arrange an in-person meeting, but suggest a brief phone call as an alternative. People have busy schedules and may not have much availability.
Here's an example of a follow-up email:
Hi Jim, It was nice to meet you at the [name of event]. I enjoyed chatting about [something you talked about]. In looking at your LinkedIn profile, I noticed that you do a lot of work on XX [state how it relates to something you're interested in]. If you have time, I'd love to treat you to coffee or hop on a quick call to learn more!
You may also consider calling your contact; however, weigh this carefully. Not everyone is comfortable with unscheduled calls.
Regardless of how you reach out, it's best to avoid directly mentioning your job hunt or business needs. It's likely understood from the initial conversation that you're in the job market or seeking new business contacts. Make the agenda wider to show that you're thinking about their interests and to avoid putting the person on the spot about providing leads for your search or business.
Connect on LinkedIn
Connect with your new contact on LinkedIn via a personalized invitation. Even if your headshot identifies you, if your first outreach is via LinkedIn and not email, remind them of where and when you met. Sending a LinkedIn invite means you and your new contact will also learn more about each other from your profiles. You may discover that you have contacts, schools, or previous employers in common, or you may see someone in their network to whom you may later ask for an introduction.
If you have a question, don't ask it in the invitation. LinkedIn only allows the person to accept or ignore the connection request. Once they accept, they can't go back to re-read any text you included in your invitation. Send your question via a separate LinkedIn message or by email after you've established a connection.
Give and Get
When you meet with your contact again, focus on them. Ask questions that tap into their professional interests ("What is the greatest challenge your business is facing?" Or, "What do you think about [certain industry trend]?"). They'll share their thoughts with you, and you can weave in your knowledge to show your potential value as an employee, partner or service provider. A rich conversation should allow you to describe your career or business objectives and to ask for help or introductions, now or later.
Relationships are two-way streets. If you share information and/or give assistance without seeking anything in return, you'll be a very valuable contact. People will see you as a resource or thought leader and may recommend you to others.
The Three "I's"
A great approach to following up is offering one or more of the three "I's": Information, Introductions, or Invitations. Sending an article with Information about their industry/field is thoughtful, and it may give your new contact a deeper understanding of a trend or a new way to approach a business goal. Make an Introduction to someone you think they should meet. Extend an Invitation to a professional event they may consider interesting. Think about non-work-related ways to help, too. Perhaps they mentioned they were looking for a good new restaurant, and you've got the perfect recommendation. Or, they're a runner and you know about a great half marathon coming up. Bottom line, there are many ways to give to others, so listen closely to pick up cues and be creative in your approach.
A word of caution: while generosity is an end in itself, it's important to conserve your time, resources (and professional contacts!) when networking. Avoid spending all of your energies in one place; find out one or two important things you can do to help your new contact. Then do them.
A Long-Term Relationship
Meeting and staying in communication with new contacts consists of more than one or two encounters. There are a variety of ways to stay on the radar of those you've met.
LinkedIn notifies you of a connection's birthday, if they've added it to their profile, and of their work anniversary date. These are perfect times to send best wishes or check in. (Always customize LinkedIn's standard congratulatory messages before sending.) You don't need a special event to be in touch, however. A short email asking how a project is going or if you'll see them at an upcoming industry event can also go a long way to maintaining a connection.
Thoughtful and strategic follow up after meeting is vital to your job search and business success. Take the business cards you've received from new contacts, reach out soon after events, add value and stay connected. Even after you land a new role or make strides growing your client base, continue reaching out to develop solid ties to your network to foster long-term business and personal relationships.
Julia Bonem '87BC is a coach who helps corporate executives transition to the nonprofit sector and nonprofit professionals move up in their field. She has over 24 years of nonprofit experience. Julia was a senior fundraising officer for 14 years at leading academic institutions such at MIT, Johns Hopkins, Barnard, and the University of Pennsylvania. For over a decade, she was Vice President of a boutique executive recruiting firm serving nonprofit clients (such as Columbia, NYU, the Metropolitan Opera, among many others) on a retained basis. Having been on "both sides of the desk," as a nonprofit executive and a recruiter, she is uniquely positioned to help her clients increase their appeal and marketability for nonprofit jobs. Services include: partnering closely with clients to establish and refine career targets, developing the “elevator” pitch, reviewing resumes and cover letters, designing job search strategy (and managing the process), seeking and preparing for networking meetings with hiring managers and job interviews, and handling job offers and salary negotiation. Contact Julia Bonem at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about how she can help you take the next step in your career!